The last time Don Hay coached the Canadian National Junior Team, he rolled a perfect seven.
That was 1995, when Hay guided a team that included Bryan McCabe
, Ed Jovanovski
and Wade Redden
on defense and Jason Allison
, Jeff Friesen
, Ryan Smyth
and Alexandre Daigle
at forward to a perfect 7-0-0 mark while outscoring the opposition 49-22 en route to the country's third of five straight gold medals.
Hay had access to that level of talent due to an NHL work stoppage, but there's no reason to believe the 57-year-old coach can't muster similar results even with the NHL in full swing.
That's precisely what Hockey Canada believes. On Thursday, Hay was announced as coach of the team Canada will assemble for the 2012 WJC, which will be held in Edmonton and Calgary.
"I'm really excited for the opportunity and it's going to be a great challenge for myself and the staff in putting together a competitive team to challenge for the gold medal," Hay said. "I'm hoping the players we get this time are comparable to those in 1995. I think the game has changed since then, but it hasn't changed that much and the players are as good as they were in '95."
Hay currently coaches the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. The Giants have been a perennial powerhouse, winning five of the last six B.C. Division titles while advancing to the Western Conference Finals in four of six seasons. He's also won three Memorial Cups -- twice with the Kamloops Blazers (1994-95) and once with the Giants in 2007.
He has an idea what he'll be looking for next December, when decisions must be made to whittle the roster to 22 players.
"I think players need to skate hard and compete hard at a high level," Hay said. "I'm looking for a high hockey IQ. It's a short tournament and there's really no time for teaching, so you have to play smart and pick up different aspects that the coaching staff throws at them. You want them to compete and execute, but we all know it comes down to winning."
Hay was asked if he expects Red Deer center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, the No. 1-rated North American draft-eligible skater according to NHL Central Scouting, to be a part of the team.
"I'm hoping he'll be there," Hay said. "You are always going to lose players to NHL teams, but he's put together an outstanding year in Red Deer and really established himself as the premier player in the WHL. We're hoping that he's going to be a candidate for the team."
Hay will be assisted by George Burnett of the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls, Ryan Huska
of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets and Pascal Vincent of the Montreal Juniors in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Burnett and Huska each served under Dave Cameron during Canada's silver medal-winning effort in January.
"The preparation that's put into this is second to none by the people at Hockey Canada," Hay said. "There's no guarantee you're going to win a gold medal … you have to earn it. The other countries are all very competitive now. It means a lot more to the other countries; they've followed different things that Canada has done well in their program and using it. That's why I think the games are so good and more intense than ever before."
This past season, Hay became just the fourth coach in WHL history to win 500 games (519-268-35-42). He is a two-time winner of the Dunc McCallum
Trophy as the WHL Coach of the Year (1999, 2009) and was named the WHL's best coach of all time by the Canadian Hockey League in 1999. He was inducted into the BC Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008, part of a class that included former NHL players Steve Yzerman
and Cliff Ronning.
The decision to name Hay comes two months after USA Hockey named Dean Blais as its coach for the U.S. National Junior Team. It will be the third time Blais will be behind the bench for Team USA at the WJC. The U.S. won a bronze medal at the 2011 WJC in Buffalo, N.Y.
Hockey Canada's National Junior Evaluation Camp will be held Aug. 3-6 at Rexall Place in Edmonton.
"The thing about the summer camp is when you don't know a lot about a player, it's a good time to find out more," Hay said. "Summer camp is more of an evaluation camp and the winter camp is to make the team."
Seven players from last year's team remain eligible to play in the 2012 WJC -- goaltender Mark Visentin
, defenseman Erik Gudbranson
and forwards Sean Couturier
, Jaden Schwartz
, Quinton Howden
, Ryan Johansen
and Brett Connelly.
"We have no control over whether or not an NHL team keeps a player but we do know there are seven possible players who can return from last year," Hay said. "We're hoping to get all those players back and then add players with Ryan's (Nugent-Hopkins) ability."
Canada will play its Pool B games against the U.S., Finland, Czech Republic and Denmark in Edmonton before heading to Calgary for all playoff, relegation and medal games. Defending champion Russia will face Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia and Latvia in Pool A.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale