The head coach of the Drummondville Voltiguers returns to the same role with Team Canada at this year’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo.
That Ducharme is back is testament to the fact Hockey Canada appreciated the job the veteran major junior coach did last time around. Canada won silver, losing in a shootout to the U.S. at Montreal’s Bell Centre.
With this year’s World Junior around the corner, Ducharme recently took the time to speak with Prospects Hockey contributor Willy Palov to discuss a wide range of topics surrounding this year’s CIBC Canada Russia Series and the upcoming tournament in Buffalo.
Q: Let’s jump right in with a question about last year. In the gold medal game, do you think the team got a little bit unlucky with the way it played out?
A: I thought we had our chances in the third period to get a goal that would’ve secured a gold. Even in overtime we had many chances but we couldn’t finish. It’s part of the game sometimes. But when it’s one game for a championship, maybe you notice it more. Losing in a shootout is not easy; it hurts for everyone involved. I thought the guys deserved better but that’s the way the game is sometimes.
Q: You sometimes have to deal with a hot goalie as well. The London Knights goaltender Tyler Parsons played really well for the Americans and that’s something you just can’t control.
A: That’s right. You have to expect that players from the other team are going to play hard and you know they want to win just as much as you do. When a goalie has a great game, you just have to keep your focus on what you’re doing. That’s what we tried to do. Overall I thought we had a pretty solid game and you had two great teams going at it. I thought it was a great hockey game and their goalie played well but there are always a lot of different reasons why a game turns out a certain way.
Q: Last year you were in Montreal with Canada playing the U.S. for gold and now you’re moving to Buffalo this year and it will be in the Americans’ rink, with an outdoor game in the group stage. Your thoughts on that?
A: I think in maybe the last 15 years (Canada-U.S.) has been quite a rivalry at the world juniors, but also at the senior level with the Olympics, the World Cup and even the world championships. For sure our rivalry is a good one. We had a great atmosphere last year in Montreal. It was exciting for everyone. I’m sure it’s going to be great again this year in Buffalo and we know the American team will have a lot of support.
Q: Of course, there’s still a lot of juice in the rivalry with Russia and you get to see that every year with the CIBC Canada Russia Series. Team Canada likes to use those as evaluation games so how much does it help that the Russians always come and play well against the CHL teams?
A: These are really useful games. (We also) watch guys closely everywhere in their leagues. But to see them play at the international level and to see the way they adjust is really valuable. You get to see what they can bring against that kind of competition. It’s not enough just to be good in your own league, you have to show you can do it against the best players in the world.
Q: You obviously would have been at all the summer camps and events with Hockey Canada watching everyone so do you have any sense of what kind of team you’ll have this year? There’s always so much turnover year to year but after seeing the talent you have to work with this year, what do you think people can expect from Team Canada?
A: There are good prospects everywhere, that’s for sure. That’s always the way it is in Canada. We’re always influenced by the NHL and what players they keep and who they send back. We know some guys will start their season there but some of them will go back to junior and that will change who we have. So it’s always hard to predict exactly what we’ll look like but we always know we’re going to have a competitive team. There are always plenty of great candidates and we know we can go there with the goal of playing in the last game for gold.
Q: And you also always see somebody come up big and replace people from the previous year’s team. Last year, Saint John Sea Dogs defenceman Thomas Chabot stepped up for Canada and he was someone who took his game up a level and became a star. How much do you keep that in the back of your mind leading up to the tournament?
A: You always know your players are aware of what is expected of them when they play for Canada. A lot of kids dream about playing in the world juniors and they want to be playing their best if they make the team. That’s why the CIBC Canada Russia Series is so important. We use it to evaluate the players but we also use it to show them how we want them to play and what we expect from the guys who are going to be on the team. We know there are always great players in Canada…But you’re watching for guys who are ready to accept that challenge of being the best against another top international team.
Q: The same goes with leadership. There are always good candidates who come through with that as well but how do you evaluate who can fill those roles?
A: There are always a lot of different players to choose from because a lot of them want that responsibility. But we also have nine guys who might be coming back from last year’s team. Like I said, you never know what will happen with the NHL players but we think a lot of them will be with us and that’s a great start. There are also guys who already play in that role with their teams in junior so you always have a lot of players who are used to being leaders. When you put all that together, you know you are always going to have a good team with a lot of guys who know how to lead.