Sutter settles down players

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:15 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- On the surface, Team Canada finds itself exactly where it was one year ago. Having run roughshod through the round-robin and heading into the semifinal a favourite to win gold, it should be a case of deja vu all over again for those competing in their second straight world juniors.

However, Shawn Belle says there is a difference this time around.

Belle, part of last year's silver-medal-winning squad, believes he and his teammates will go into today's game against the Czech Republic a little more focused than the team that reached this point last year. The Czechs pumped Finland 3-0 yesterday for the right to face Canada, which had a first-round bye.

They are a bit more prepared.

A measure tougher mentally.

The Edmonton product who plays for the WHL's Tri-City Americans, credits head coach Brent Sutter.

"We came in with a goal and coach Sutter obviously wants us to achieve that," Belle said after yesterday's practice. "He's made us focused every time we come near the rink and thinking what we have to do to achieve our goal."

The Canadians would take a big step towards that target with a victory this afternoon at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, which would mean a berth into Tuesday's gold-medal finale.

So far, it's been a rather easy trek for Canada, which has won its games by a combined 32-5 count.

Yet, Belle said, there's no uncertainty what's been accomplished so far doesn't amount to anything without a couple more wins.

That attitude starts at the top.

Namely from Sutter, the Red Deer Rebels owner, GM and bench boss who's guiding the ship that's expected to mine the nation's first gold medal since 1997.

"You hear a lot of stuff about different coaches but once you get up close and personal it's a different thing," Belle said in trying to explain his first experience playing for someone from hockey's First Family. "You can definitely feel the intensity every time he enters the room.

"He's a very intense person but at the same time, he's very fair. He lets you know what he wants and if you don't achieve it, you're going to be on the bench. If you do, you're gonna play.

"Maybe, sometimes, that intensity rubs people the wrong way but it's to our benefit."

In more ways than one.

Sutter's methods are going to give the Canadians their best chance at winning a world crown.

That's the immediate accomplishment.

However, all these players hope to become future NHLers and his approach to the job will help each and every one of them to reach that dream.

"He stresses mental toughness every single day. The physical part is one thing but the mental part of the game is every bit as important," said Colin Fraser, the Red Deer captain.

How well those lessons have been learned will show soon.

After all, there are those who think the fact it's been too easy for the Canadians so far could pose a problem.

Not a chance, Sutter said.

"The important thing is we're not satisfied and want to be better," he explained. "We know the competition is gonna get tougher. Now you are in the situation where it is basically a do-or-die situation so it is a Game 7.

"The funny thing is we get in that situation because that's the way we've played. We wanted to make sure every game was treated the same so it wasn't any different than it would be if we got to a semifinal or the final game."

Belle concurs.

"Last year, not to go back on it, we had some tough times and lost a big game and the guys who came back don't want that to happen again," he said. "We're going to stay focused on the task we have and achieve the ultimate goal."


Videos

Photos