Coach Rick Swan has been a busy man.
While the Bonnyville Pontiacs sit neck-and-neck with the Sherwood Park Crusaders for tops in the AJHL’s North division, it’s only two more weeks until Swan will be at the helm of 22 elite players playing for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.
Swan and his coaching staff (staffs) have been preparing since April, and there’s been unique challenges with each duty.
Between changing on-ice schedules to get ice-time, having no access to the Pontiacs dressing room; then on Team Canada West’s side hiring a staff, campsize shrinking from 60 players to 44, cutbacks in the recruiting budget, and a camp with fewer on-ice sessions you’ve had in the past – there’s been a lot of work to do.
But it’s pretty much all in a day’s work.
“When representing your country you’re extremely proud and their expectations are gold, and that’s the mission of those guys. Go win a gold medal. And at the same time make sure the Bonnyville Pontiacs team doesn’t suffer, or take a step back while you’re gone,” said Swan.
The invitations to camp will be revealed Monday, and will feature the showcase players on the NHL Central Scouting watchlist, some current NHL draft choices, and the best from the five Junior A leagues in western Canada.
In the span of three days, Swan and staff will try and find the magic combination, while cutting half of the invitees.
“We think we have invited the right players to our camp, which will give us a chance to be successful this year, and I’m making sure there’s no stone unturned. I just have to do it in the short-term with kids who are going to meet each other for the first time in December.”
This is the third year Swan is a part of Team Canada West, so he’s seen a bit of how team philosophies have differed.
The recipe for winning gold last year was choosing the best players and fitting them into new roles, irregardless of usual position at times. To win gold again, it’s matter of finding that balance.
“Not only do we want the best players, we have to somehow find out who the best character players that are going to give you everything they’ve got in the role they find themselves in. That means somebody that’s playing powerplay and penalty kill and huge minutes for their club may be in a 4th line situation,” he said.
The five team tournament begins Dec. 9. but their is a lot of unique pre-tournament action.
Team Canada West will see Russia Dec. 7 at the New Horizons Centre in Frog Lake, and will be the first time a World Junior A Challenge pre-tournament game will be hosted in a First Nations community.
Cold Lake will host Team Canada East and the United States at the Energy Centre at 7 p.m.
Plus, the Bonnyville Pontiacs will square off against the Czech Republic at the R.J. Lalonde Arena that night.
“Everybody important in the hockey world is going to be there and they have high expectations, and they want to make sure the program your running is one worthy of the expectations that they have. What that means is that you better above and beyond to have a detailed program, so that someone can come on in and support the philosophy you want to have.
“And you can also get a group of 22 kids to come together as a team and put their egos aside and pay for the Team Canada crest on the front, which is a bigger challenge than some may think.”
Swan says expect there be to Pontiacs representation at camp.