In the searing heat of an Ottawa summer, the cold, hard decision making will officially begin for Benoit Groulx, Dave Cameron and Willie Desjardins.
Over four days at the University of Ottawa, 44 players hoping to wear the red maple leaf at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship get their first big chance to impress Team Canada head coach Groulx and his two assistants. It's step one for the coaching staff in building the team that will hit the ice at Scotiabank Place between Dec. 26 and Jan.5, with a fifth straight WJC gold medal clearly front and centre among their goals.
"It's important for them to show us what attitude they're going to bring to (the team)," Groulx, also the head coach of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Gatineau Olympiques, said during a press gathering Tuesday at Ottawa's Westin Hotel. "We know the talent is in place but at the same time, for us coaches, it's an opportunity to get to know them better.
"I know some of the guys from Ontario, I know the guys from Quebec but there are many of them I don't know. It's the same thing for Willie and Dave. We only know some guys and it's an opportunity for all of us to get to know everybody, to get in contact with everybody, to know who every player is and see what kind of team we can assemble."
Included among that group are 10 returnees from the team that struck gold in the Czech Republic earlier this year: Defencemen Drew Doughty, Thomas Hickey, Luke Schenn and P.K. Subban, and forwards Zach Boychuk, Colton Gillies, Steven Stamkos, Brandon Sutter, John Tavares and Kyle Turris
. Only Hickey will be unable to participate in the camp.
Stamkos (No. 1 overall), Doughty, Schenn, Boychuk, Jason Bailey and Cody Hodgson also head a list of 14 camp players who were selected in the first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft held in June at Scotiabank Place. Which players will be released by their NHL teams – Stamkos, for one, is projected to be an impact player as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Lightining – remains the big wild card for Groulx and Co. in their selection process.
"It all depends on who's going to stay in the NHL and who's going to be back," said Groulx. "It's too early to talk about who will play (for Team Canada) or who will not play or who will stay in pro hockey. What we know is we expect everybody to be at summer camp.
"Then after that camp, we'll all start our seasons and we will see who will be available at Christmas time."
The July camp, Groulx stressed, is merely just a beginning for all involved.
"Summer camp is an opportunity to leave a good impression with the coaches, but then what you do after that is also very imporant," he said. "The evaluation is going to stop in December (when the final selection camp will be held).
"My goal is to put the best team possible on the ice and be as successful as we (have been) in the past."
Groulx knows exactly what it's going to take to make that happen. It's a formula that has worked for the junior national program for four straight years now.
"This team has its philosophy and we want to keep it going the same way," said Groulx. "We want to play our style, Canadian hockey style. It's about skating, it's about hitting, it's about making plays and playing hard. This is how we've been successful and this is what we want to do (this year)."
With the tournament back in Canada for a two-year run –- Regina and Saskatoon have just been awarded the host's role for the 2010 WJC – expectations will be ratcheted up even higher for a team that captures the attention of the nation over the Christmas holiday break every year.
"I don't think it's extra pressure," Groulx said about coaching Team Canada in his own backyard, so to speak. "When you coach this team, you know that expectations are high and we feel that playing in Canada, it's an opportunity for us. It's a challenge and it's something we've got to prepare to face."
He's already noticed the buzz beginning to build around the tournament.
"People are excited about it," said Groulx. "(The WJC) is big in our country, it's been an institution for a long time. People are always watching this (tournament) between Christmas time and New Year's.
"I know that the excitement will grow the closer we get to the tournament."See Team Canada's roster for the summer development camp here.
See the summer development camp schedule here.
For more information on the tournament, visit www.hockeycanada.ca/ottawa2009.