VANCOUVER - Jean Chretien was still the prime minister the last time Don Hay coached Canada in the World Junior Championship.
"I really feel that this is the time for me to step back in," said Hay, who also coaches the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants. "I'm really looking forward to it and I'm really honoured."
Hay arrives in Calgary on Friday for a selection camp that will determine the team to compete in the annual Christmas-time tournament.
The 57-year-old will try to re-live past glory with a new generation of players. His 1995 Canadian squad went a perfect 7-0. But the expectations will be much greater this time.
Back then, the tournament did not receive the same hype that it does now and was played in smaller venues like Red Deer, Alta. This time, games will be played in Calgary and Edmonton exclusively.
"The tournament's really grown," said Hay, a native of Kamloops, B.C. "It's more of an event now. In '95, it was kind of the coming-out year for the team and the tournament to go to bigger sites. We played a game in Calgary on New Year's and it was sold out with 18,000 to 20,000 people, and then we played a game in (Edmonton) and that was sold out.
"It's gone from mid-city venues to big-city venues and it's a real big event."
Hay used his success at the World Junior Championship in 1995 to earn pro coaching jobs with the Phoenix Coyotes and Calgary Flames. He believes he has grown as a coach. He is more experienced, has dealt with more pressure situations and realizes the importance of the tournament to Canadians.
He has won three Memorial Cups, the last in 2007 and ranks among the top WHL coaches in all-time regular-season wins. Hay also shares the league's all-time playoff victory total.
Aside from using digital video instead of VHS tapes, Hay will not alter his coaching methods much from the first time he won gold.
But he expects the competition to be much more difficult than in 1995.
"The biggest change is probably the Europeans," said Hay. "The Europeans are a lot different teams than they were at that time. The Europeans are much more competitive."
European squads now include many players from the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Hay benefited from the NHL lockout at his first World Junior Championship. That freed up more pro-calibre players for the 1995 edition of the Canadian team.
Alexandre Daigle, a No. 1 overall selection of the Ottawa Senators, returned from the pros to the junior ranks after playing the previous season in the NHL, and other teens who could have been NHLers, were also selected.
Hay will not have the same luxury this time. It's unlikely that many NHL clubs will allow their junior-age players to take part.
Only NHLers who attended the Canadian junior team's summer development camp would be eligible anywhere.
But the former Kamloops firefighter, who stresses hard work to his teams before everything else, is prepared to make the best of the situation.
"You just coach the guys that are there," said Hay. "We have a great depth chart and they're all real good players, and we'll be forming a good team."
The biggest challenge, he said, will be building a team as quickly as possible.
"You're not picking the 22 best players," said Hay. "You're picking the 22 players that make the best team."
In other words, star players who usually display plenty of offensive flash and dash on the first two lines may have to crash and bang on the third and fourth units instead. Hay expects his players to display considerable versatility and be willing to play a variety of roles.
One player who has a strong chance of making the team is Giants leading scoring Brendan Gallagher. The Montreal Canadiens prospect said players had better be prepared to work hard at both ends of the rink if they want to make the club.
"(Hay will) just continue to stress that message that he's looking for players who can play a complete 200-foot-game," said Gallagher, who has 23 goals and 21 assists in 44 games. "He wants competitive players and he wants smart players. If you're able to do that, you'll usually be in his good books."
Giants defenceman David Musil, 18, a candidate to play for the Czech Republic after missing a chance last year because of a broken ankle, said it will be unusual seeing Hay behind a different bench.
"It's going to be weird," said Musil. "I hope I'm not going to go on their bench."
Musil was born in Calgary while his father Frank played for the Flames, but spent most of his time growing up in the Czech Republic.