Tim Hunter never got to suit up for the World Juniors during his playing days, but getting to coach Team Canada at one of the world’s most prestigious tournaments is the next best thing.
Hunter, the head coach of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, spent two years as an assistant coach for Team Canada at the tournament before being handed the reins in 2018.
It’s an incredible honour, perhaps more so because it’s something he set his sights on when he started coaching junior hockey.
“It was part of my goal as a junior coach to come to the Western Hockey League, develop as a head coach, learn the game and learn the types of people that are in the game at this level – the young people that play now – and then translate that to try to get back to the NHL level or a pro level at another day. And part of that was also trying to be a head coach of a world junior team,” he said Tuesday from his home rink in Moose Jaw.
Hunter will have the opportunity to coach Canada in a hockey city he’s quite familiar with. He played four of his 16 NHL seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, reaching the Stanley Cup Final with the club in 1994.
Hunter, of course, is also a 1989 Stanley Cup champion from his days with the Calgary Flames.
“A lot of guys go from the World Junior gold to playing in the NHL and then to win a Stanley Cup eventually and I’m going the other way around. I already won my Stanley Cup and then won a world junior gold,” Hunter said, alluding to last year’s gold medal win in Buffalo.
He’s hoping to repeat the success the team had last year by securing gold again in front of a hometown crowd.
Selection camp for the tournament begins next week and brings 34 of the best junior hockey players in Canada together for a final tryout. That number will be pared down to 23 players who will make up Team Canada.
Three players from Saskatchewan teams will be at selection camp including Josh Brook, one of Hunter’s Warrior defencemen. Prince Albert Raiders Brett Leason and Ian Scott will also be at the tryout.
Hunter said each player was chosen because they meet specific criteria that Hockey Canada is looking for in the team. It’s his role as head coach to help them fit those criteria.
“That will be more my job than anyone else’s job, is trying to fit the guys in and let them play to their role and play to their identity,” Hunter said. “We want to play a certain way and if they’re able to do that they’ll be on the team.”
One way they’ll be able to do that is with speed. Hunter said he wants to find a way to make Team Canada even faster than it’s been before.
“A team that plays fast everywhere. Not just with the puck, with and without the puck and a team that thinks the game really fast as well.”
“Different from past years will be just my stamp on the team of trying to gain speed in the game everywhere,” he added. “Whether it’s three, five, seven, 10 percent will be hard to dictate but that’s what we’re going to try to do. We’re going to try to play the game faster everywhere and that’s not always easy to do but we’re going to sure try.”
The World Junior Tournament begins on Boxing Day and all of Team Canada’s game will be broadcast live on 980 CJME and 650 CKOM.