Vigneault Takes the Helm for Team Canada at World Championship

Alain Vigneault is back coaching in a big way after a winter of unemployment.

Vigneault is not only Canada’s head coach at the men’s world hockey championship starting Friday in Slovakia, but he’s also the newest coach of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.

Those two appointments were announced in a span of five days last month.

The 57-year-old from Quebec City is about to make his world championship coaching debut.

“It was definitely on my bucket list,” Vigneault told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Vienna on Wednesday.

Alain Vigneault
Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers head coach (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Slocum)

“I hadn’t had the opportunity to represent my country since 1991 at the world junior championships in Saskatoon.”

He was an assistant coach to Dick Todd that year when Canada won the gold medal.

Vigneault Brings Coaching Success to Team Canada

Vigneault’s teams have made the playoffs in 11 of his 15 years as an NHL head coach.

He’s been nominated for the Jack Adams Trophy that goes to the league’s top coach four times. Vigneault won it in 2007 with the Vancouver Canucks

Vigneault was fired by the New York Rangers just over a year ago when the Rangers missed the post-season for the first time in his five seasons there.

Alain Vigneault Rangers
Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Canadian team and Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said he wanted Vigneault behind Canada’s bench even with the potential wrinkle of NHL teams pursuing him at the same time.

“That’s what makes it so great he made a commitment to Hockey Canada,” Botterill said.

Related: Senators to Watch at the World Championship

“What Alain has accomplished in the National Hockey League, it could have been easy for him to say ‘you know what? I don’t need to take on the challenge of the world championship.’ But he was willing to accept it.”

Two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins will be Canada’s starting goaltender against Finland in Kosice on Friday.

World Championship Groups are Tight Competition

Canada, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, is in Group A alongside United States (4), Finland (5), Germany (8), Slovakia (10), Denmark (12), France (13), Britain (22).

Defending champion Sweden (2), Russia (3), Czech Republic (6), Switzerland (7), Norway (9), Latvia (11), Austria (17) and Italy (19) comprise Group B.

Canada concludes the preliminary round May 21 against the U.S.  The top four teams in each group advance to quarterfinals. The final is May 26.

Canada has earned 26 gold medals over the 82-year history of the tournament, and most recently back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016.

A semifinal loss to Switzerland followed by another loss to the U.S. in the bronze-medal game sent Canada home from Denmark without a medal last year.

The Canadian team heads to Slovakia on Thursday following a Vienna training camp that included a 7-5 exhibition win over host Austria.

The 23-player roster includes Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares, Flyers forward Sean Couturier and a trio of Vegas Golden Knights — forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone and defenceman Shea Theodore.

Vancouver’s Troy Stecher and Buffalo’s Brandon Montour are Canada’s oldest defencemen at age 25, yet both will make their world championship debut.

The average age of Canada’s blue line is 23.

“We’ve got a young, mobile defence that can compete against a hard forechecking team, can make those good first passes and support the attack,” Vigneault said.

“Up front, we’ve got some good depth and guys who can put the puck in the net. The key is you’ve got to get better every day in this tournament.

“We’re here to win gold for Canada.”

Late Start Means More NHL Stars

The world championship starting a week later than usual helped Botterill get a ‘yes’ when he extended invitations to players. 

The Golden Knights, who lost to San Jose in seven games in the first round of playoffs, were an example of that.

“There’s obviously the disappointment of getting knocked out of the playoffs and the physical toll that it takes on them,” Botterill explained.

Jason Botterill Buffalo Sabres
Jason Botterill of the Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“I think the fact they had a couple days to recover from that before having to make a commitment, I think helped us.”

The International Ice Hockey Federation altered overtime and shootout procedures for this year’s championship.

Related: Golden Knights in the IIHF World Championships

The gold-medal game will not go to a shootout if tied after overtime. The finalists will play 20-minute, sudden-death overtime periods until the winning goal is scored. 

Overtime will feature three skaters per side throughout the tournament. Previously, playoff games featured four-on-four in overtime and five aside in the gold-medal game.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press