Faced with a lack of familiarity with each other at the beginning, Team Canada’s Spengler Cup squad needed some stability.
And it came in the form of a man well-versed in the style of play in Switzerland.
Canada’s head coach Doug Shedden — who also coaches EV Zug of the Swiss League — helped lead the Canucks to their first Spengler Cup title since 2007 on New Year’s Eve, and he did so while preaching a system that was adjusted to the international game.
Shedden joined Hockey Night in Canada Radio host Gord Stellick along with analyst Kelly Hrudey on Wednesday, and said his squad’s 7-2 victory over HC Davos in the final was in part sparked by his team’s willingness to buy in to his coaching style. The coach gave special credit to several currently locked-out NHLers like Jason Spezza.
"Jason Spezza was blocking shots, killing penalties, back-checking hard," he said. "So they all bought in."
Shedden also said his experience in the Swiss League gave him and assistant coach Chris McSorley a definitive advantage that Canadian coaches in years past haven’t necessarily had: familiarity with the differences between the NHL and international rules.
"You’re dealing with bigger ice, with names you’re not familiar with," said Shedden, "And not to cut anybody short like Craig MacTavish or Mark Messier or Marc Crawford last year, but when you get one practice before a tournament starts and just one pre-game skate and you’re not familiar with these players, let’s face it, a lot of coaching starts when the game starts also.
"So you might be able to put a quick system into place, so it’s also if you put the right people on at the right time and that’s difficult, and that’s the challenge behind it when you bring somebody over for just a week."
Even though it was a rough start for the Canucks — they lost 2-1 to German club Adler Mannheim to open the tournament — 51-year-old Shedden was particularly impressed with the way his squad was able to gel before and during the week-long tournament, especially the players that brought the intangible qualities.
"Other guys, like Ryan Smyth, for a guy his age who never went through training camp," he said, "His leadership role and how he played for us, he played unbelievable … [Patrice] Bergeron, I don’t think he lost a faceoff in four games."
But when asked who was most impressive among the NHL players currently locked out in the labour dispute between the union and league, he didn’t have to think twice.
"[John Tavares] could stickhandle in a phone booth with 30 other people in there," he said. "He always comes out with the puck. He’ll go through crowds and you wonder, ‘how did he do it? He’s still got [the puck].’ He’s a very serious guy. [He’s] a nice guy, a gentleman, but very serious about his career."