When Canada comes knocking, Brent Sutter answers the door.
The Red Deer Rebels boss will not only be guiding the WHL squad as the CHL/ Russia series heads to Western Canada this week, but he'll also be behind the bench for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships next month.
In an exclusive interview with McKeensHockey.com this week, Sutter says he's always been proud to represent his country. The former NHL player has participated in Canada Cups and World Championships as a player, but now he will be doing it as a coach.
"I think it's always important for anybody to represent your country," he said. "It's a complete honor and privilege to do it."
Sutter says the WHL/ Russia game will be a little more difficult because the players will not have any practice time whatsoever, so it will be more of a challenge for the coaches to make sure the players are on the same page.
"The good thing about it is enough of these players were at the evaluation camp in August in Calgary," he noted. "So a lot of those guys know what I'm about and the type of game we want to play at the World Junior level. So that in itself will help."
And the game plan when you can't practice to get ready for your opposition?
"We have enough elite athletes on our team where we can adjust very quickly and we'll be fine."
Once the CHL/ Russia series is over, Sutter won't have much time before selection camp starts for Team Canada's WJC squad on December 12th.
The year 1997 has been mentioned a lot, since it's the last time that Canada won gold at this tournament. While the Canadian hockey community dreams of a championship, Sutter refused to look toward January 4th - the date of the gold medal game.
"My goal is December 12th," he said firmly. "That's the coaching staff's goal and that's my goal, is making sure we get the players there first and foremost. When December 12th is over, we'll worry about December 13th. We're just going to take it one day at a time and one game at a time once we get into our games and we're not looking any further past that. To me, if you look too far ahead you get caught in your present time and all of the sudden that too far ahead isn't there."
While Sutter won't look beyond the first day his team gets together in this tournament, he has no problem talking about what a player will have to do in order to put on a Canadian jersey while he's behind the bench. He notes that while he wants a high-energy group that can skate, they also have to be in-your-face and show the kind of commitment he demands from a player on any one of his teams.
"The coaching staff for the World Junior team is a very demanding coaching staff and we're going to expect our players to play at their best and make themselves better every day and hold themselves accountable and be responsible."
He says no matter what, there are going to be some very good players that will not be playing because of the numbers game. The coaching staff has to put out the lineup it thinks has the best chance to win each game and that means he's not necessarily looking to compile an All-Star team.
"There could be some players with less skill and players that don't make it have more skill, but it's a matter of finding the right roles for the right guys."
Sutter says his triumphs as a player have helped him out throughout his life. The Stanley Cup with the Islanders, his time with Chicago, the Canada Cups, and his junior career; it has all helped to fuel his achievements with the Rebels.
"I think anytime you have any kind of success in hockey or anything you do in life, you can carry it with you and hold it to the highest regard and hopefully maybe someday use it for you."
This stands to be one of the most entertaining WJC's in recent memory thanks to the plethora of talent that has been locked out of the NHL. Whether Canada wins gold or not is anyone's guess, but at least the hockey community can be confident in the fact it has the right man behind the bench.
To see the entire chat transcript of Sutter's conversation, visit McKeenshockey.com this week.
Chris can be reached via email at email@example.com.