An interesting story broke earlier this week when former Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock was named as the head coach of Team Canada for the upcoming World Hockey Championships. An even more interesting story followed- Hitch chose his successor in Columbus, Scott Arniel, to be one of his assistant coaches.
Hitch previously coached Team Canada when the tournament was held in Halifax and Quebec City in 2008. This is Arny's first gig with Team Canada.
The World Hockey Championships are held every spring, and involves teams from all over the world, spread out over four divisions. The big boys play in the championship division, with Division 1 teams such as The Netherlands, Spain and Kazakhstan participating. Division 2 features teams such as Australia and China, with Division 3 seeing action between teams from countries like Israel and South Africa. Every year teams vie for promotion with the top two teams moving up a division, and the bottom two being relegated.
The focus is obviously on the Championship division, with the tournament being hosted by Slovakia this year. Due to the timing of the event, and the inclusion of NHLers, the teams don't always feature the best players from their respective countries. Nevertheless, it is a great tournament featuring some of the best players in the World.
Most of the European leagues finish their seasons earlier than the NHL, so most of their players are available to participate. North American teams and some European squads are made up of players who's NHL club didn't qualify for the playoffs, but some teams leave a roster spot or two open to add players who get eliminated in the first round.
The architect of Team Canada this year is Dave Nonis, currently the assistant GM in Toronto. He, along with his assistants and the coaching staff (Peter DeBoer is also an assistant, he was recently fired from his position as Florida's head coach) have essentially built the squad, with a few openings for players who are eliminated in the first round. Here are the players who currently make up Team Canada:
Rick Nash (Columbus)
Antoine Vermette (Columbus)
Matt Duchene (Colorado)
Jordan Eberle (Edmonton)
Andrew Ladd (Atlanta)
Evander Kane (Atlanta)
Jason Spezza (Ottawa)
Jeff Skinner (Carolina)
Chris Stewart (St.Louis
Cal Clutterbuck (Minnesota)
John Tavares (Islanders)
Travis Zajac (New Jersey)
Marc Methot (Columbus)
Brent Burns (Minnesota)
Alex Pietrangelo (St.Louis)
Dion Phaneuf (Toronto)
Luke Schenn (Toronto)
James Reimer (Toronto)
Devan Dubnyk (Edmonton)
As you can see, there are three Blue Jackets on the roster. Rick Nash is a Team Canada mainstay (which isn't necessarily a good thing, considering it means he isn't playing for the Stanley Cup), while Antoine Vermette and Marc Methot are making their Team Canada debuts at this tournament.
The roster features a good mix of snipers, playmakers and physical players like Cal Clutterbuck. The defense obviously needs another body or two, but has a good mix of offensive and defensive types. Goaltending may be an issue with only Reimer and Dubnyk in nets, no doubt the Canadian brass is hoping for a guy like Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Carey Price or even Dwayne Roloson to get eliminated in the first round so they could potentially join the team.
The tournament is a lot of fun to watch, and although it doesn't feature the star power of the Olympics, it's still a best-on-best event which always provides a high level of hockey.
Check out Matt's thoughts on the other Jackets who are suiting up for their countries, and good luck to all of the Jackets involved this year!