|After eight years of coaching and three QMJHL Memorial Cups, Benoit Groulx will now guide Canada in the World Junior Championship.
Not only had he just completed his playing career in Europe, but Groulx's grasp of the English language was, well, much worse than the rough-around-the-edges vocabulary he eloquently uses today.
"This was not in my mind at first, but I applied for a job with Hockey Canada in 2004 and when I had a look at this program, I felt that if I was going to go into it my goal would be to coach this team one day," Groulx said. "Here I am."
Fresh off of coaching in his third Memorial Cup with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Hockey Canada handed Groulx the task of not only picking, but guiding the country's best teenage hockey players to a fifth-straight gold medal at the World Junior Championships.
The pressure cooker this year will be even more intense because the tournament is in Ottawa.
"When you're a coach, it's not about dreams anymore," said Groulx. "It's about goals you set for yourself. Once I started in the program I had a goal to coach this team one day. I'm here now. It's a great opportunity for me. When you're coaching a program like this, great responsibility comes with it. It's something I'm looking forward to."
For the first time in his coaching career, Groulx's responsibilities will be split.
His main focus has to be on the Olympiques, who begin defense of their QMJHL championship soon. Groulx also will keep a keen eye on the rest of the Canadian Hockey League.
Since Gatineau is across the Ottawa River from the nation's capital, Groulx will have a chance to see some of Team Canada's prospects when they come to town to play the Ottawa 67's of the Ontario Hockey League. Plus, Logan Couture and Tyler Cuma, two of the 44 prospects at the National Junior Team Evaluation Camp, play for the 67's.
"I'm going to pay more attention this year, for sure," Groulx said. "It will be good for us to keep the evaluation going."
New Jersey Devils coach Brent Sutter, who was the coach that started Team Canada's streak of four-straight World Junior gold medals in 2005, told NHL.com Groulx will have to do certain things to ensure success in the tournament.
First, he has to implement his own system and tweak it only to fit his players. Sutter said he brought the system he was using in Red Deer of the Western Hockey League to the national program and it worked in back-to-back years.
"You've got to have a system in place that you and the staff feel very confident with," Sutter said. "You have to follow through on it."
Groulx said he hasn't started thinking about systems yet because it was only an evaluation camp this week. Paul Byron, the only Gatineau player in the Junior Team Evaluation Camp, said Groulx prefers, "a really tight system, but as soon as you get the puck you have to go on offense."
The second thing Groulx has to do, according to Sutter, is demand the respect of his players and staff. Judging by a poll of some prospective players, respect won't be an issue for Groulx.
"To play for him you have to show up every day and have a great work ethic, the right attitude," Byron said.
"He demands a lot," Alex Pietrangelo told NHL.com. "You respect a guy that will push you."
John Tavares and Brandon Sutter, who know Groulx from last summer's Canada/Russia Super Series, when Groulx was an assistant under Brent Sutter, both brought up the coach's intensity.
Tavares, though, was proud that he got Groulx to smile this week.
"He lightened up a bit," Tavares told NHL.com.
|John Tavares played under Groulx when he was Brent Sutter's assistant during the Canada/Russia Super Series.
"The difference is things happen very quickly," Sutter said. "Everyone has to buy into what you're trying to do. If not, because of the way things happen in a tournament like that, disaster can hit fairly quickly."
Groulx seems prepared for all of it.
He said he already has used Sutter and Craig Hartsburg, the coach of the previous two WJC teams, as resources. He plans to speak with Hartsburg again in September, and Sutter has been in Ottawa these last three days watching from a gallery above the ice.
"You have to use all the tools you have," Groulx said.
That includes the Hockey Canada staff, which Groulx and Sutter both said is fantastic.
"There are so many people taking care of so many things that the only thing we have to do is coach," Groulx said. "We're treated first-class. You can't ask for a better environment to work."
Groulx was born across the river in Hull, the central and oldest part of the city of Gatineau, where he still lives. He grew up a fan of the 67's, admiring Hall-of-Fame coach Brian Kilrea, who still is behind the bench for the OHL team.
"I was 9 years old and he was coaching, and I am 40 years old and he's still coaching," Groulx said with a smile. "I've been going to their games for a while. Hey, Darren Pang was in the net, so it's been a long time."
Like a lot of Canadian kids, hockey was Groulx's passion. He played three seasons for the Granby Bisons in the QMJHL before starting an 11-year professional career in Europe.
When he returned to Quebec, Groulx was hired as an assistant coach with the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes for the 2000-01 season. He started the next season in the same position, but was named Gatineau's head coach at Christmas 2001.
Three years later he joined the Hockey Canada program as an assistant coach for the 2004 Junior World Cup, where he won gold.
This year, with his English vastly improved and three QMJHL championships highlighting his résumé, Groulx is running the show for Team Canada.
Like he said, it's not like this is a childhood dream come true, but it is a hockey coach realizing one of his career goals.
"It's a great opportunity for me," Groulx said. "It's a great challenge."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.