CALGARY -- Craig MacTavish knew this was going to be an excellent experience in a dozen different directions but not necessarily this one. "I don't care how many years you're in the game, being part of a group of this quality has to excite you. It takes me back to the great teams we had in Edmonton,'' he said of Gretzky and the gang.
"They were not only good players but good people away from the game. This is kind of like a refresher course.''
Two days on the job as Team Canada assistant coach to Marc Habscheid and MacTavish says he already feels at home and pumped for the month ahead.
"It's already a kick, oh yeah,'' he says.
In the middle of Team Canada's second practice here yesterday you could see how this was going to work with Habscheid, a guy who spent the last half-decade coaching the Kelowna Rockets major junior team, heading up a staff with NHL coaches MacTavish and Tom Renney as assistants.
He was digging pucks out of the net.
You knew Habscheid was going to be true to his word and make coaching "a team thing'' when he was digging those pucks out and MacTavish had the team in a semi-circle drawing practice drills up by the boards.
"It's the only way I've coached,'' said Habscheid, a guy who was once beat out of the third line centre job by one C. MacTavish.
"From the first day I coached in Melfort, Sask., I've delegated and coached as a team. I have confidence in my ability to work with people,'' said the only former player in Hockey Canada's so-called program of excellence to return to the program as head coach.
MacTavish said he's already delighted with the way things are working.
"A lot of the way Marc does things is the way I do things in Edmonton,'' he said.
"I value my assistants and work with the idea the head coach spits out the final decisions.''
TOOK HIS JOB
MacTavish said the two get along great despite the fact he once took Habscheid's job.
"The No. 1 and No. 2 centre spots were kind of locked up,'' he said of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
"I was intimidated by his skill,'' said MacTavish, a defensive forward who was one of the best face-off men in the game and the last player in the NHL not to wear a helmet. "I think Marc might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.''
MacT says this is fair turn-around. "I'm not trying to take his job here.''
MacTavish says he can already see how he's going to benefit as an NHL coach by being part of the staff which also includes Renney, Canada's former national team program coach, who will return as head coach of the New York Rangers whenever NHL hockey is played again.
"I can already see how working with players like we have on this team will help me better evaluate the group I have in the NHL,'' he said.
MacTavish says he can already see how one of the most important things for the coaches, as they prepare this team for the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Austria, is to prioritize.
"You have to make trade-offs when you're dealing with a short period of time. You can't have everything tight in a box. Over the course of an NHL season, you can tighten up what's less significant.
"We have to become very organized, very disciplined and very fit, very fast.''