When head coach Andre Tourigny last found himself stationed behind Team Canada’s bench, he was assistant coach to Dale Hunter for the World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. This time around, he’s the bench boss as the team finds their footing in Red Deer, Alberta.
Entering the arena on Wednesday, Team Canada was without three players, all of whom were absent for a number of reasons. However, the players who were present and cleared got to work bright and early as December awaits.
Missing 14 players on Tuesday, 11 of them were accounted for Wednesday as Tourigny and company started implementing systems. Among the new faces to Team Canada were Thomas Harley and Dawson Mercer, as well as Matthew Robertson, Braden Schneider and Philip Tomasino.
Despite some core pieces missing, each player acknowledged the task set out before them. No matter how early skates start in the mornings, all 46 players are competing for a roster spot. However, each practice goes on with some question marks, as has shown so far due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As skates on Wednesday carried on without a hitch, even coach Tourigny didn’t have all the answers. While among the group not skating was Quinton Byfield, Ridly Greig and Xavier Simoneau, the concern perhaps gleamed further than that, not knowing if the Rangers would loan Alexis Lafreniere.
Asked after practice for his status, Team Canada’s bench boss told the media with a laugh, “If we have news, someone will tell me really quickly.” However, touching on the talents he knew about is where the immediate worry kicked in too early.
Tourigny noted that Byfield had arrived, however, could not skate as he was waiting on tests results. As well, said that Ridly Greig had been deemed unfit to play, and this, was had not yet travelled. With test results taking time to be processed, Xavier Simoneau was not cleared to travel.
While majority of his players are healthy, Tourigny still takes caution as things can change in a heartbeat. With the first road block experienced on day two, he, along with his staff, must zero in on the present. “At some point, you have a plan on how you want your team to play and to look. But you got to focus on what you can do today. We were on the ice, we worked hard.”
With a couple of players confused by Wednesday’s systems, Tourigny assured them not to worry early on. He told them they had time to perfect it and applauded their efforts as the grind gets underway.
Something Tourigny tuned into was the flow of his defence as a key to success. “We want to be responsible defensively. One of our main thing as well is we play good defensively so we can recover and play with the puck. We want to have the puck a lot.”
Knowing what Jamie Drysdale is capable of, there is little to stress about as seen last winter in Ostrava. Joined by Ryan O’Rourke and Thomas Harley, the righty leads the defensive end, a core strength for Team Canada.
As Tourigny works to sure up their defence, it wasn’t the only thing standing out early on. Two forwards also caught his eye in left-winger Adam Beckman and centreman Kirby Dach. As footage of him scoring became available, Tourigny admired what he saw in Dach’s performance. “I like the approach of Kirby. Kirby isn’t a vocal guy. Goes about his business, focuses on his thing. Right now it’s on detail and applies it in practice. He set the right example for everyone.”
Being offensively gifted is something the bench boss has been witness to before. With Beckman in the WHL, however, this only gave Tourigny so much of a sample size. Having not seen him in person, the bench boss said of how he studied the scoring leader, “We watched him a lot on video. He has good size and can make good plays. We are excited about what he can bring. At this point, we can’t look at the draft, we have to look at what they will do here at camp.”
On the other end, he touched on the goalies, where four of the five have started skating in practices. Tourigny knows it’s too soon to judge while the subject of goalies in itself presents a challenge. With Quebec-born Devon Levi arriving, the position of goalie will be later evaluated.
“As a coaching staff we have to be comfortable with our goalie, who will be behind our team. It will be a team decision,” Tourigny said. Levi is skating in a small group after crossing the border while completing his quarantine requirements. He is joined by Alex Newhook and Dylan Holloway.
With Greig and Simoneau held back at home, management expects the two forwards to both be available at some point in camp. Seeing as there’s more talent forthcoming, the choices ahead will be anything but easy.
Knowing the harsh reality before him, coach Andre Tourigny knows patience is key. Aware that hard decisions are coming, Tourigny said to the media about the need for adjustment, “I think it’s a normal process. Tomorrow will be better. And the day after will be even better. It’s normal for guys to be able to adapt. We have to be patient.”