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From the frying pan right into the fire

by Brad Holland / NHL.com

Wearing a Team Canada jersey in the 2007 Super Series was a dream come true for both Cory Emmerton and Logan Pyett. It also turned out to be excellent preparation for the next step in what they hope will be NHL careers: the Detroit Red Wings’ training camp in Traverse City, Mich.

Though Team Canada went 7-0-1 in the series against Russia, coach Brent Sutter, in his last assignment before taking over behind the New Jersey Devils’ bench, kept his players mentally involved. Sutter is known in hockey circles as a taskmaster, though perhaps because of his team’s performance, there were no “Herbies” — the punishing wind sprints the Herb Brooks-coached 1980 U.S. Olympic Team endured in preparation for the Winter Games.

“There weren’t any Miracle-type lines after games, which was nice,” laughed Pyett, the Red Wings’ seventh pick (212th overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft.

For Cory Emmerton (above) and Logan Pyatt playing for Team Canada in the 2007 Super Series was not only a dream come true, it was also excellent preparation for both players as they now try to make a name for themselves at the Detroit Red Wings training camp. 
As the series turned into a runaway for Canada, Sutter’s biggest challenge was keeping his players up for each game. It wasn’t easy.

“Once we started winning, he had to keep things tough and keep us mentally prepared,” Pyett said. “He handled everything very well, and the guys were impressed with how it was run. It got us prepared for camps as well as the games, which we were all really happy about.”

Even NHL players can find it difficult to stay sharp after beating the same team game after game. Playoff veterans speak of the skill of “nailing an opponent to the wall” during a playoff series as one of the most difficult aspects of a long series, because even a team that’s completely outmatched, outworked and outplayed can be dangerous. But Team Canada met the challenge, though Pyett said the final record didn’t indicate the closeness of the series.

“Obviously it was closer than it looked,” Pyett said. “The games in Russia on the big ice especially were very fast.”

Sutter was able to keep his team focused throughout en route to seven wins and a tie in the eight-game series, which began with four games in Russia and finished with four in Canada -- the opposite of the famed Russia-Canada Summit Series in 1972.

“Sutter demands a lot,” Pyett said. “We weren’t given a lot of time, and as a team we weren’t together for very long. He had to push us and get us to click right away.”

Sutter’s strengths as a coach extend beyond preparing for games and practices. He is also a master at making a group of individuals feel like a team. He pushes his charges to get to know one another off the ice, to learn to work together on it and to keep their focus on a common goal.

“With Coach Sutter, if you’re not going to play by his system you’re not going to play,” said Emmerton, Detroit’s second pick (41st overall) in 2006. “And everyone wanted to play. So you’re obviously going to buy into it.”

Judging by the results, it looks like each member of Team Canada was able to “buy into it.”

The preparation that made the Canadians so successful had an added benefit. By the end of the series, the players were more than ready to step right into the routine of their respective teams. Whether that meant a return to junior hockey, the Russian Super League or a trip to an NHL training camp, it would be safe to say that none of these juniors had ever been quite so prepared for an upcoming season.

Pyett, for one, knows that he has been given a head start — one he intends to use to the utmost.

“It helps me huge,” Pyett said. “I’ve been put through some tough practices already by Sutter and I feel like I have my legs under me better than the guys who haven’t been in serious practices or games. I feel I’m better prepared and in better game shape.”

Getting to compete at a high level with a potential future teammate doesn’t hurt, either.

“Going into the Super Series, we missed the rookie tourney and we traveled all day (Tuesday) getting to Traverse, so we’re on the same schedule and to have him around was awesome,” Pyett said of having been teammates with Emmerton. “We’re the same age and good enough friends that it makes everything more relaxing. I know other guys from last year at camp when I come in so I know a few people, but it’s good to have that one guy coming from the Super Series.”

But there are some things you can never be fully prepared for — like going one on one against five-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, as Emmerton did, or attempting to check Pavel Datsyuk, as Pyett tried to do.

“That’s a little different,” Emmerton said with a laugh of trying to beat the NHL’s top defenseman. “I don’t think you could ever be prepared enough to go one on one with players like (Lidstrom). It’s little bit different with guys like that.”

Then, almost as an afterthought, he added: “As the camp goes on I might get a little more used to it. But I don’t think you could ever say you’ve conquered them.”

One thing is for certain: The confidence both prospects gained during the past few months hasn’t subsided just yet — and it might just be enough to give them a much-needed jump in their stride this week.

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