TORONTO – Hockey Canada named Doug Armstrong General Manager of Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September 2016. Armstrong, who has a long resume of international experience – and success – takes over for Steve Yzerman, who twice selected teams that won the Olympics, in 2010 and 2014.
Armstrong served under Yzerman at those two Games and was the GM for Canada’s 2009 IIHF World Championship team that won a silver medal. He has been GM for the St. Louis Blues for the last five years after working for the Dallas Stars for some 16 seasons.
“These are outstanding men, and each one of them could manage this team on his own,” said Hockey Canada president Tom Renney. “The bottom line is that someone had to take the lead, and we felt strongly about Doug’s commitment to the program. It’s quite a task to put in the extra hours for this team while managing an NHL team with high expectations as well, but he embraces what Hockey Canada is all about.”
“The expectations are greater in Canada, but that’s what you sign up for, and that’s what you want,” Armstrong said, acknowledging it was “gold or bust” for the team. “The love of the game here is second to none. There will be pressure to win, but it will be good pressure.”
Joining Armstrong is a lengthy list of assistants: Ken Holland, Rob Blake, Bob Murray, Marc Bergevin, and Scott Salmond, who is Hockey Canada’s vice president of hockey operations.
“We wanted to pay attention to international experience, even though the tournament will be played on North American ice,” Renney added. “And we needed a management group that could co-exist and work well together. We’ve done very well of late, winning, and I think you learn how to win. This group of men, I think, will help us do that again.”
Holland has been the GM of the Detroit Red Wings since 1997. Under his guidance the team has qualified for the playoffs every year and won the Stanley Cup four times. He, too, was part of the Vancouver and Sochi management teams as well as three World Championships (2005, 2006, 2013).
Rob Blake is a member of the Triple Gold Club, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame for his outstanding playing career, and currently the assistant GM of the Los Angeles Kings that won the Cup in 2014. Although lacking managerial experience, he is expected to be an integral part of the staff as a liaison with the players themselves.
“Rob is a ‘been there, done that’ player,” Armstrong explained. “There is nothing that these players are going to see that Rob hasn’t seen, so he’s going to be great to work with the players.”
Bergevin is another member of the management group who brings more on-ice experience than boardroom experience to the group. He played 21 years in the NHL and helped Canada win gold at the 1994 IIHF World Championship, the country’s first such gold in 33 years. He was also director of player personnel with the Chicago Blackhawks as the team assembled what has become a three-time Cup champion team.
Murray also played more than 1,000 NHL games and went on to become an integral part of the Anaheim Ducks organization, first as senior vice-president of hockey operations (2005-08) and then as general manager, since 2008.
When asked if there were perhaps too many men involved in the selection process of the team that wants to defend its 2004 title, Renney was confident his organization had made the right choices.
“I’m not so sure there are too many. There is a deep respect among the group of what each one can offer. I think we have just the right number, and from the players’ perspective it’s important we have Rob Blake. He’s had huge success both in the NHL and on the international stage. He’s one of those voices the group will pay attention to.”
This third edition of the World Cup is radically different from the previous two. All games will be played in Toronto, and in addition to the top six countries – Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, and the United States – there will be two ‘wild-card’ teams. One will be made up of North American players under 23 years of age, and another will consist of European players from countries other than the aforementioned four.
This management group named today, however, won’t have anything to do with the U23 team, although Hockey Canada will have input, along with USA Hockey, the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF.
“Our job is to beat those guys,” Armstrong said with a smile.
All teams must name their first 16 players by 1st March 2016, and fill out the balance of the roster by 1st June 2016. In all, teams must name three goalies and 20 skaters (likely 13 forwards and seven defencemen).
“A small group of us got together at the meetings and put a list together. We then decided to put another list together after the World Championship and the Stanley Cup and to see where the crossover would be,” Armstrong revealed. “I think the first 16 are going to be the easy ones. But going to the World Championship and seeing Giroux and Seguin, the chemistry they had, seeing Jake Muzzin, who played very well. You see a guy like Killorn really make a name for himself in the playoffs. The names will fluctuate between now and March.”
“We’ll have no trouble procuring talent,” Renney added. “After a summer of training, you’re going to see some awfully good hockey because no one has been dinged up. And the format is very fan friendly.”
Armstrong agreed. “It’s exciting knowing you’re going to get healthy players, with energy. At the Olympics, you’re crossing your fingers and hoping that last game before the break you’re not losing players. That’s not going to be the case. We’ll have well-rested players. And the format is exciting. At some international events, some of the games aren’t as competitive as other games, and in this World Cup, all games are going to be competitive. It’s going to be a great challenge.”