Wed Jun 26 11:15am EDT
When confronted with a need to change, there is still the impulse to find comfort in the familiar, which means Hockey Canada going back to Brent Sutter makes sense on any number of levels.
The terrain at the under-20 level is a lot rougher than it was in 2005 and '06 when Sutter guided Canada to the first two of a skein of five gold medals, which has since given way to the Maple Leaf finishing second, second, third and fourth at the past four world junior championships. The current coach of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels had a firm grasp of the situation, particularly with that '06 team which was not exactly overrun by future high-end NHLers, aside from a 17-year-old Jonathan Toews, David Bolland and Marc Staal. It's a good safe pick when combined with the other structural changes to the youth programs which Hockey Canada announced Wednesday, since it avoids throwing out the baby with the bathwater while getting away from the tried-and-true.
Big changes in Hockey Canada land. Good to see. Shake the tree now and again. Some new blood.
— Ryan Pyette (@RyanatLFPress) June 26, 2013
The changes include:
— Ryan Jankowski, who spent the last three years in amateur scouting with the Montreal Canadiens and is a former New York Islanders assistant GM, will take over as the head scout. This closes the book on the ill-starred Kevin Prendergast era.
— The under-20, -18 and -17 programs are all under the umbrella of new Program of Excellence management team which seems more interwoven with major junior hockey. Three influential major junior GMs, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's Joël Bouchard, Kelowna Rockets' Bruce Hamilton, London Knights' Mark Hunter, along with Phoenix Coyotes assistant GM/goaltending coach Sean Burke, will be on that panel.
Having Mark Hunter and Dale Hunter, who will coach Canada's entry in August's Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament, involved is long overdue for Hockey Canada.
— Canada is also replacing its summer development camp with participation in the annual August tournament that USA Hockey holds in Lake Placid, N.Y., as announced some time ago.
— The World Under-17 Challenge is going to be streamlined. For clarity's sake, let's quote the release directly:
In 2014-15, the under-17 program will include a first ever national under-17 camp, and will go from five regional teams to three national teams at the 2015 World Under-17 Challenge.
One would hope the idea there is about getting a better picture of how the best 16-year-olds from Quebec are progressing compared to their counterparts in B.C. or Alberta. The old way of having provincial hockey associations pick regional teams — Atlantic, Ontario, Quebec, Pacific, Western — was becoming archaic. It made sense when Canada was the unquestioned No. 1 hockey country. It doesn't when Ontario is coming sixth in the tournament.
Sutter, meantime, has gone overseas as Canada's coach at the senior world championship, so the prospect of competing in a honest-to-goodness international hockey environment in Malmö, Sweden in December shouldn't seem totally alien. The challenge will be trying to win with what one suspects could be a relatively young lineup. It's tough to project six months ahead. Counting Charles Hudon, who was scratched by a back injury at the literal last minute in December, Canada has only six eligible returning players. That drops to four if Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon are in the NHL to stay by Christmas. The 19-year-old talent pool is also relatively shallow, although the Ottawa 67's Sean Monahan could be an important top-six piece if his NHL team returns him to the OHL. It should be interesting to see what comes out of it.
Winning on foreign ice would be faith-restoring, especially ahead of the dementia to the 10th power that will be the Montreal/Toronto tournament in 2015. For the most part, though, the effect of the changes announced Wednesday won't be apparent for some time.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.