DeBoer high on world stage

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

Peter DeBoer knows all about the pressure cooker of the world junior hockey championship. He was an assistant coach with the 1998 Canadian team that lost 6-3 to Kazakhstan in the seven-place game in Hammenlinna, Finland.

Most Canadians couldn't even point out Kazakhstan on a map, let alone accept the fact it had beaten our best juniors.

The loss came after five straight championships for Canada and this country hasn't stood on the gold-medal podium since.

DeBoer, in his fourth season as coach-GM of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, never expected that after that debacle, Hockey Canada would ever want him back.

But this summer, after an opening came up for one of the assistant's roles, head coach Brent Sutter telephoned DeBoer, who had applied for the position Sutter got.

"During the interview process they asked me if I would consider being an assistant and I said no," DeBoer said yesterday.

"That (decision) was just based on it's such a big commitment. You're away from your family for three or four weeks and I'd already been in the program as an assistant.

"But Dean Chynoweth bowed out (to take the coach-GM job in Swift Current) and I got a call from Brent asking me to be on the staff. He's a hard guy to say no to."

DeBoer had his reasons for accepting.

"Obviously Brent's reputation as a player and as a hockey man and when you're going to come to one of these things you want it to be a learning experience as well as a positive winning experience.

"After talking to Brent, I felt I could learn an awful lot from him. I never got a chance to play in the NHL (playing with Windsor in the OHL, then three years in the old International league) and Brent played for 18 years and played in Canada Cups and it's a different prospective."

DeBoer started coaching under Paul Maurice with what is now the Plymouth Whalers. DeBoer became head coach in 1995-96 when Maurice went with the Carolina Hurricanes.

"All the coaches I've worked with have never been NHL players," DeBoer said. "Paul Maurice and Real Paiement (coach of that ill-fated '98 junior team), Mike Polino when I did the under-18s, they've all been career coaches rather than NHL players.

"It's a different perspective, a lot more of a player's perspective than a coach's perspective. Brent's said that when he went to Canada Cups, 'This is what I wanted as a player' and he brings a unique spin to it."

DeBoer will never forget that loss to Kazakhstan, which had gained its independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and '98 was its first venture into the world junior championship.

The backlash was incredible.

"I don't think Canada's perspective has changed much, but I think we've come a little ways off that it had to be gold or nothing," he said.

"I think we've realized over the last half-dozen years there's other great countries out there and sometimes a silver medal is just in the cards.

"But at the time it was gold or nothing. When we lost to Russia (in overtime in the quarter-finals), it eliminated our chance of winning a gold medal and we were done as a team and it just went downhill from there.

"I remember we were playing for seventh and eighth place after Canada had won five golds in a row and we've got all these kids that were first-round picks (such as Vincent Lecavalier, Daniel Tkaczuk, Mike Van Ryan, Manny Malhotra and Roberto Luongo) and it's the last game of the tournament and we've been there for three weeks and we've still got a hundred extra sticks lined up in the hallway between the benches.

"On the Kazakhstan side, after they've played seven or eight games, they've only got 12 sticks left for their team.

"Then you hear the story about how they got to the tournament . . . on a school bus and then took a cargo plane. You learn when you lose and there's one lesson I learned in that and that's to appreciate what we have here in Canada."

DeBoer should be a strong candidate to coach the juniors next year in Vancouver, but right now he's concentrating on winning gold here.

"Then I'll sit down and make a decision (but) it's not just a decision only Pete DeBoer can make. Obviously the Kitchener Rangers play a big part in that and obviously my wife and my family because you're gone for a month."

And there is that pressure cooker.

"There's a price to pay," DeBoer said. "It's a nation that loves its hockey and especially loves this tournament, but I also think that's part of the lure of the job.

"You do have the attention of a nation on you for a month and its great. If you get a a chance to coach world junior in Canada, it doesn't get much better than that."


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