TORONTO — Just because John Tortorella is bringing his fiery, no-nonsense attitude to the World Cup of Hockey as the United States coach doesn’t mean other teams in the tournament will follow suit.
Instead, expect a vast array of personalities and styles as national federations and general managers try to find the right coach for a brand new, pre-season international competition with so many unknowns.
While USA Hockey announced Tortorella as its coach Monday night, Hockey Canada is still in the process of narrowing down to its final choice. Two-time gold-medal winner Mike Babcock would seem to be the front-runner, assuming he’s interested, but Stanley Cup-winners Joel Quenneville and Darryl Sutter have to be considered.
Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong also mentioned Alain Vigneault as someone who “flies under the radar screen” but is among the best Canadian-born coaches in the NHL. Throw in Claude Julien, Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff, who assisted Babcock at the Sochi Olympics, and there’s no shortage of quality options.
“We’re fortunate that there’s a lot of veteran coaches with great resumes that we can choose from,” Armstrong said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think you want someone that can hit the ground running, that understands the dynamic of a tournament format, someone that can get everything organized because you have three exhibition games and then you’re starting to play and before you know it you’re in an elimination game.”
Babcock excelled at that in Sochi, taking a team fresh off planes from North America and rolling undefeated to gold. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ new coach might not have as combative a personality as Tortorella, but his intensity seems a perfect fit for a short tournament like the Olympics, world championships or World Cup.
“In my experience at a world championship and at Sochi is that I couldn’t see the level of energy being expended by all parties lasting a whole year, a regular hockey season,” said Peter Chiarelli, one of the GMs of the 23-and-under Team North America at the World Cup. “You just couldn’t do it.”
Tortorella, like Babcock, has won a Stanley Cup and could dig deep into players for a short period of time and expect results. U.S. GM Dean Lombardi said on a conference call that Tortorella “instantly gives your team an identity,” something that there’s not much time to build in an all-star tournament.
Hockey Canada is well aware of that.
“You want to know how you want to play and what’s successful in a short-term competition and in this case on a North American rink, so you have to know which style of play you want to incorporate,” Hockey Canada president and CEO Tom Renney said in a phone interview. “The coach certainly has to line up with what he’s got available to him for talent and how he wants to play this game.”
For Chiarelli and Stan Bowman’s Team North America, the identity is youth and speed. While Chiarelli didn’t want to give away what kind of coach he was targeting, speculation around someone like dual citizen Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning or Todd McLellan of the Edmonton Oilers would seem to mesh with the ideal style of play.
“There has to be a solid defensive foundation, but this is going to be an up-tempo team,” Chiarelli said.
The other all-star team, made up of European players from countries such as Slovakia, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark, should be skilled and will be led by a well-respected coach in Ralph Krueger. A coaching consultant under Babcock in Sochi, Krueger’s mild-mannered personality is a polar opposite of Tortorella’s, but his knowledge of international hockey is unmatched.
“He is as complete a hockey guy as there is,” Renney said.
Sixteen-player rosters are due March 1, and the tournament, which includes Canada, the U.S., Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Team North America and Team Europe begins Sept. 17 in Toronto. Rickard Gronborg will coach Sweden and Lauri Marjamaki Finland, with more appointments to come.
The strangest dynamic left is between Team Canada and Team North America, which are pulling from a common pool of candidates. Chiarelli said there was some overlap between his short list and Armstrong’s but remained confident the 23-and-under team would be able to quickly name a coach when given the go-ahead to do so.
Officials from Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, the NHL and NHLPA are set to meet next week, Chiarelli said. At some point in the near future Canada and Team North America will have coaches, identities and shouldn’t have trouble picking from the options available.
“It’s obviously unique — you’re looking for a group of coaches to take care of both teams,” Renney said. “I think we’re in a pretty good position to get the right guy and quite honestly group of guys. I think that sort of holds true for both teams, the under-24 team, as well.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press