MacT scores an assist

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers have always been big on the World Hockey Championships.

If healthy and not in the middle of a playoff run, the Oilers always encourage their players to take part in the event if invited.

This year that invitation has been extended to the coaching staff as Craig MacTavish was named an assistant for Team Canada yesterday. He along with Pat Burns and Mike Johnson were added to the staff headed up by Ken Hitchcock of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It's always been our philosophy that it's good for the players to get that experience," MacTavish said last week. "If they call, we'll encourage the players to go."

This will be MacTavish's second stint as an assistant on Canada's world championship entry, having been on staff of the bronze-medal winning team in 2005. He also was an assistant on the 2004 Loto Cup team made up mostly of Canadian players based in Europe.

MacTavish was unavailable for comment yesterday.

"To me, Mac did one of the best jobs in the league this year in building his team," Hitchcock told Sun Media. "When you incorporate younger players and you have some success, it just shows that you can coach.

"In a lot of other cases, losing the players that he lost, the team would have been devastated. He rebuilt and re-tooled the team in the middle of the season."

LATE CHARGE

The Oilers missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season. However unlike last year when the team went into the tank after the trading deadline, this season the Oilers made a late charge for the post-season without a number of injured veterans.

They ended up finishing ninth in the conference, three points out of a playoff spot.

"We both had the same sort of situation where we've had to incorporate a lot of younger players onto our teams, so there's going to be some familiar ground," Hitchcock said. "There's going to be a number of younger players on this team, too, so it's going to be a factor."

QUEBEC AND HALIFAX

The tournament, taking place in Canada for the first time, goes May 2-18 in Quebec City and Halifax. Canada, the defending world champions, open defence of their title against Slovenia in Halifax.

MacTavish is expected to work with the Canadian defence and be in charge of the penalty-killing unit. The Team Canada roster has yet to be named.

"It's going to be a young dynamic defence, it's going to have a few young guys on it when all the dust is settled and the feeling is that Mac has really shown the ability to work with young people," Hitchcock said.

"That's really going to help us. His ability to coach a transition game is really going to help a guy like me. We've known each other for a few years and Mac has participated in the program before. He was a very valued member of the other World championship that he was in."

MacTavish just completed his seventh season as the Oilers head coach. Had the Oilers managed to make it into the playoffs, it's likely he would have been considered a candidate for the NHL's coach of the year award.

Burns is a three-time winner of the award, while Johnson - an associate coach with the Los Angeles Kings - was an assistant with Team Canada last year.

"It's a great feeling when you're surrounded by good coaches and good people," Hitchcock said. "It's a security blanket that any head coach wants."


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