From Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Corey Perry at the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship, to Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Sam Reinhart at the most
recent World Juniors, there’s nothing quite like chemistry to bring about Program of Excellence success.
Choose one common factor that resonates from past gold medal-winning editions of Team Canada, and the bond of brotherhood would probably be the first that
comes to mind.
And that’s not likely to change.
Beginning with the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – the first step in Hockey Canada Program of Excellence – Canada was represented by three national
teams (Black, Red and White), instead of the five regional entries (Atlantic, Ontario, Pacific, Quebec and West) that had been in place since the 1980s.
Why make the change? Ryan Jankowski, director of player personnel for Hockey Canada, says that the approach was meant to break some barriers between the
country’s top prospects at an earlier age, therefore increasing the chances of creating chemistry between them.
The players attending Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team selection camp are the first to benefit from the changes; they arrived at camp with a
much higher comfort level, and a greater understanding of the players they’ll line up with, and against.
“It will help from a chemistry standpoint by them knowing what Hockey Canada’s expectations are for them,” says Jankowski. “You lived this a year ago, and
now it’s a matter of putting that knowledge into play. In terms of on-ice chemistry, it may help, it may not. If it’s the case then that’s obviously a
While chemistry is a subject most of the under-18 hopefuls probably avoided in school, it is certainly not something they ignore within the dressing room.
“Coming in and not knowing anyone would be a lot different, so the (under-17 process) really helped us bond as a group,” says Nolan Patrick. “If you want
to make the team and win a tournament, you need to bond quickly with your teammates, and that’s what I think has been the biggest help from last year.”
The players at camp are the country’s best, after all, and their skills and hockey knowledge make it easy for them to gel with pretty much whomever they
end up playing with.
But that doesn’t mean they take the relationships they’ve built, and on and off the ice, for granted.
“By spending time with them and getting to know them, it sort of makes it easier once you’re out on the ice,” says Adam Mascherin, who was a teammate, and
linemate, of Patrick with Canada Red at least year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. “You’re not going to be on the same team throughout your career, so
the faster you learn to be able to play with different players, the faster you can make that transition.”
While meshing with different linemates does not appear to be such a hard task, some occasional difficulties can also come up. The language barrier, for
“The biggest challenge is probably with the Quebec boys,” says Patrick. “But they’re all very skilled players and they really make an effort to bond with
the rest of us, so it’s not much of an issue. We all get along great.”
With all said and done (at least for now), Hockey Canada’s changes to the Program of Excellence has resulted in a smooth transition from under-17 to
under-18 for players, coaches and high performance staff.
Not only are players feeling more comfortable walking into the dressing room and seeing familiar faces, they are also more aware of what’s expected of them
from Hockey Canada. For Jankowski, the advantages for years to come simply cannot be ignored.
“Down the line, it’ll certain help at the (World Juniors) level because most of the guys will not only have gone through the under-18 program, but likely
through the under-17 program as well,” he says. “They’ve been around each other more, so there is a comfort level that you see among the returnees.”
With the new emphasis on chemistry, bonding and early learning allowing players to come out of their comfort zones, there’s a good chance the next
Crosby-Bergeron-Perry or Domi-Duclair-Reinhart trios are coming.
Time to sit back and enjoy.