The president of Hockey Canada announced Wednesday the return of Brent Sutter as the head coach of the Canadian national junior team. The Red Deer Rebels coach, GM and owner will be joined by assistants Benoit Groulx and Ryan McGill at the 2014 world championship in Malmo, Sweden.
Canada has dominated the world junior event winning 28 medals overall, including 15 gold. But Canada last won it all in 2009 in Ottawa — the final of five straight gold medals — and last year in Russia finished fourth and out of the medals for the first time since '98.
"We've done a lot of work analyzing what the other countries are doing," Nicholson said during a news conference at the MasterCard Centre. "It's a step-by-step process and Brent Sutter is going to come back and coach this junior team and it will be about first day of camp, second day of camp, third day of camp . . .
"It won't be about getting to world junior championship, it will be about a process to make sure everyone buys into that. If we do that in the proper way with all the new people there to help that it will put us in a good position."
Sutter, 51, from Viking, Alta., has coached Canada in international competition on four previous occasions, most recently at last year's world hockey championship. He guided Canada to world junior gold in 2005 and 2006 and said Canadians must understand other world junior countries have improved.
"It's not like Canadian hockey has totally dropped off the map," Sutter said. "Canadian hockey is still very elite but it's just other countries have closed the gap on us.
"Every game you play now is a highly competitive game at this level. There's no certain thing that you can sit there and say, 'We have to drastically change this or that.' That's not the case at all. It's how do you get above the line, how do you stay above the line, how do you stay at where you want to get to and get to your ultimate goal and how to you accomplish that?"
Sutter also knows what it takes to succeed on the international stage as a player. The former Calgary Flames and New Jersey Devils head coach played for Canada on four occasions, including the 1986 world championship and 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups.
"It's exciting, it's a new challenge and one I'm looking forward to," Sutter said. "We all know what our ultimate goal is but it's a process to be able to get to that point and that process will start in August.
"We'll get after it then."
Canada's national junior team will gather in Brossard, Que., for practices on Aug. 4 and 5, before playing exhibition games in Lake Placid, N.Y., against Finland (Aug. 7), Sweden (Aug. 8) and the U.S. (Aug. 10).
The 2014 world junior tournament begins Dec. 26.
Groulx is the head coach and general manager of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Gatineau Olympiques and McGill is the head coach of the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice.
Also on Wednesday, Dale Hunter was named head coach of Canada's national summer under-18 squad. The 52-year-old from Petrolia, Ont., will be joined by assistants Dominique Ducharme and D.J. Smith at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia.
Hunter is the head coach, owner and president of the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights. Ducharme is head coach of the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads and Smith is head coach of the OHL's Oshawa Generals.
The U18 team will gather in Toronto for a selection camp late next month before travelling to Europe for the Aug. 5-10 tournament. Canada has won the annual summer event five straight years and 15 of the last 17 years.
"You see how much work goes into winning and that's why Canada wins," said Hunter, who also coached the NHL's Washington Capitals before returning to London. "If it was easy, it wouldn't be as much fun.
"In the playoffs you have seven games. You might lose the first two and you can redeem yourself. In a tournament like this you've got to be ready right off the hop and have them firing on all cylinders.''
Hockey Canada also announced several changes to its Program of Excellence.
A new management group will oversee hockey operations for the program. Group members include Blainville-Boisbriand Armada GM Joel Bouchard, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender coach Sean Burke, Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton and London Knights GM Mark Hunter.
The group will work directly with Brad Pascall and Scott Salmond to oversee operations of the under-17, under-18 and under-20 programs. Pascall is Hockey Canada's vice-president of hockey operations and national teams while Salmond is the senior director of hockey operations and national teams.
In addition, Ryan Jankowski has replaced Kevin Prendergast as the head scout of the men's Program of Excellence. Jankowski, 38, has spent the last three seasons as an amateur scout with the Montreal Canadiens after working five seasons as the assistant GM with the New York Islanders.
The Calgary native previously worked for Hockey Canada from 1996 to 2003 in a variety of roles. He will be responsible for all player evaluation and recruitment for Canada’s national junior team and national men’s U18 team development and selection camps, as well as evaluations with the U17 program.
The Program of Excellence policy committee remains in place to oversee direction of the program.
The committee includes Nicholson, chief operating officer Scott Smith, OHL commissioner and CHL president David Branch, QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau, WHL commissioner Ron Robison and Hockey Canada officers Joe Drago and Michael Brind'amour.
"We reached out to our best resources and that's people," Nicholson said. "I guess the buzzword today is retooling and we're really doing that.
"With the management group we have a component there where we have general managers from the CHL now involved and having Sean Burke, a player who had worn the (Canadian) jersey so many times and knows the international game, it's really a group that can work with Ryan to make sure we get the right players and build the right atmosphere as we go forward.''