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Maple Leafs' Babcock to coach Canada at World Cup

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock will get another shot at gold.

Babcock, 52, was named coach of Team Canada for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on Thursday. He coached Canada to the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"It's a huge honor to be given this opportunity to represent Canada again," Babcock said. "Whether it was '97 at the World Juniors, '04 at the Worlds or the last two Olympics in '10 and '14, you feel very blessed and honored to represent your country. I'm thrilled that Doug Armstrong and Tom Renney [Hockey Canada president/CEO] have given me this opportunity."

Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong also named Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz and Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters as Babcock's assistants.

"I also want to thank the coaching staff, Joel Quenneville, Claude Julien, Barry Trotz and Bill Peters, for giving up their time and helping us pursue success at the World Cup," Babcock said.

Quenneville, who Armstrong said received serious consideration to be the head coach, will run Canada's defense. Julien and Trotz will concentrate on specialty teams. Peters will do pre-scouting for Canada to get the team up to speed on its opponents.

Quenneville has coached the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in three of the past seven seasons. Trotz, in his second season with the Capitals, has 610 wins in 17 seasons with the Nashville Predators and Capitals. Julien was on Babcock's staff at the 2014 Olympics. Peters spent three seasons as an assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings under Babcock prior to being hired by the Hurricanes in 2014.

"Like Mike will tell you, these are good men," Renney said. "Good work habits and attention to detail are not lost on these guys. They are head coaches in the NHL for a reason. I think there will be terrific synergy with this group. And at the end of the day they are an extension of what we want to see on the ice with the players."

Canada must announce a roster of 16 players by March 1, with the remainder of the 23-player team revealed by June 1.

Armstrong said Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby will be on the team. Crosby was the captain of the 2014 Olympic team and the 2015 IIHF World Championship team that won the gold medal. He has two goals and six points in 12 games this season.

"There is no discussion about Sidney," Armstrong said. "He will be part of the first group of 16 players."

As for Babcock, he knows all about the difficulties of quickly bringing together a group of players to be successful in a two-week tournament. But despite Canada's success at the past two Olympics, there are no guarantees for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

"I think we just think because we put on the uniform in Canada we're going to win. But it doesn't work like that," Babcock said. "The preparation has to be equal to the opportunity. I have never been involved in a World Cup but it looks like an unbelievable event, and you feel special and blessed to be asked."

Babcock is no stranger to the international hockey stage. He is the only coach to earn a spot in the Triple Gold Club; in addition to his Olympic gold medals he coached the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008 and Canada to the gold medal at the 2004 IIHF World Championship.

Babcock said his main task for the World Cup is to get a group of star players to find their individual games within the team approach. He said he will try to teach the players what he expects in various situations as quickly as possible and in a manner the players easily can understand.

"The quicker you do that the better off you are," Babcock said.

Crosby said that Babcock's communication skills were key to the Olympic victories.

"Obviously guys have to understand their roles pretty quickly," he said. "So whether it's the guys he puts together or what he communicates along with the whole coaching staff, I think it's been pretty clear. You know what your role is going be and how you are going to help the team and I think that is really important. Preparation is key. It's one game, not a series. It's one game so you really have to know as much as you can going in."

New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who also played on the 2014 Olympic team and should be a candidate for the World Cup team, also was impressed with how Babcock conveyed his plans.

"I think from him and his staff, his ability to relay the message but not beat it to death, so to speak," he said. "His ability to give you a message quick and on point, and obviously to have all those players and all that talent being able to buy in, listen and accept that and have everyone get on the same page that quickly was impressive from anybody's standpoint."

Babcock also stressed the best players don't win; the best team wins.

"That's just the way it is," he said. "That's the way it is in the NHL as well."

Hockey Canada has taken different approaches to putting its national men's team together in the past. Sometimes it takes the best players available and other teams it has selected players who fit certain roles. Babcock said he prefers going with the best players.

"Skill and hockey sense and work ethic and competitiveness … the best players are coming," Babcock said.

Renney agreed with that direction.

"You put the best 20 players on the ice and go play," he said. "Any skilled, talented Canadian player will play both ways no matter what. As far as I am concerned we'll play fast and put as much talent on the ice as you can and invite people to come and play."

Babcock's hiring is the second straight World Cup where the coach of the Maple Leafs will be the coach of Canada; Pat Quinn coached Canada to the gold medal at the 2004 World Cup. Glen Sather was the coach of Canada at the first World Cup in 1996, when the United States won the championship.

The 17-day World Cup of Hockey will take place at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17 through Oct. 1. All games will be televised on ESPN in the United States, and Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

Team Canada will be in Group A, along with Team USA, Team Czech Republic and Team Europe, comprised of the top players from countries outside the four European countries already competing in the tournament (Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and Russia). Group B will consist of Team Russia, Team Finland, Team Sweden and Team North America, comprised of the top North American players who will be 23-years-old or younger as of Oct. 1, 2016.

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