While some people scope out Boxing Day sales or ring in the New Year, Eric Bissonnette will be coaching on the world stage.
The men’s hockey assistant coach was recently named head coach of Team Atlantic at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
Bissonnette and his team will leave for Windsor, Ont. on Dec. 26. The tournament begins on Dec. 29 and goes until Jan. 4.
During that time, Team Atlantic will face off against teams from other regions of Canada, as well as teams from Germany, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and the United States.
It’s not Bissonnette’s first time coaching at the event he describes as a mini-World Juniors. In 2009, he served as an assistant coach.
For many of the kids on his team, some who are as young as 15, the tournament is the first chance they’ll get to don a Team Canada jersey.
“I remember seeing little kids from Atlantic Canada line up against the Russians and listen to their national anthem [in 2009],” Bissonnette said.
“It’s big. It’s a Hockey Canada event.”
In a week-long tournament, the margin for error is very small – especially when you’re the underdog.
“From Atlantic Canada, it’s always tough. Even within our own country, Quebec and Ontario usually are the big provinces. Then you look at Russia and Team USA and if you compare numbers, we’re pretty small on a big scale.”
Bissonnette knows the teams that gel together the fastest are the most successful. He hasn’t seen many of his players since a summer evaluation camp this past July in Wolfville, N.S.
“We met this summer, we put some game plan together, but that’s it. They went [to their respective teams] and there’s very little contact.
“We won’t meet until Dec. 26, so it’s trying to find a way to build some sort of team chemistry and team spirit and having players buy into what you’re trying to accomplish while they’re playing elsewhere.”
Bissonnette’s roster is diverse – players from the major junior ranks will be suiting up with players in midget AAA, prep school and high school hockey.
The biggest name on the list is Nathan MacKinnon, the 16-year-old phenom from Cole Harbour, N.S. who is drawing Sidney Crosby comparisons for more than their shared hometown.
In his first 26 games with the Halifax Mooseheads, in his first season playing major junior, MacKinnon has already racked up 41 points.
There are rumblings MacKinnon could get the call to play for the World Juniors, but Bissonnette is hoping to have him on his roster.
“You wish all the best for him, but I guess won’t be disappointed as a head coach if I have him on my roster.”
The roster also includes four Fredericton-area players – Noah Zilbert, Oliver Cooper, Matt Murphy and Mitchell Vanderlaan.
Bissonnette’s goal is to make it to the medal round and if he completes the feat, he’ll be only the second Team Atlantic head coach to do so.
Tommies head coach Troy Ryan, who was the first coach to medal with Team Atlantic, said the players are lucky to have an opportunity to play for Bissonnette.
“He generally cares about their development and whether they get to the next level or not.”
Bissonnette has had to take time away from the STU program to be involved with the Under-17s.
But his work on the international level could some day be beneficial to STU’s program.
“You get exposed to a lot of the good players not only from Atlantic Canada, but from all the provinces. When you look [at] the grand scheme of things over the years, when it’s time to recruit, these guys at some point and time will all graduate from major junior and be looking for a school to play for. Contacts are always good.
“I see this as a real big advantage for us at St. Thomas in the process of building for years to come.”
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