MONTREAL – Clement Jodoin has racked up his share of accolades during an extensive career coaching at the Junior level, but helping Canada take top honors at the World Junior Hockey Championship proved to be one of his greatest challenges.
After successful stints in the QMJHL,AHL and NHL, the St. Cesaire native had developed a reputation throughout the hockey world as a solid addition to any team’s bench. But after returning to the Quebec league to help coach Lewiston in the mid-2000s, Jodoin felt ready to push the boundaries of his career by joining the country’s national program. As fate would have it, Team Canada’s brass already had a plan for him.
“It was initially my intention to coach the country’s Under 18 squad. Blair Mackasey, who was the director of personnel for Hockey Canada at the time, told me instead that I should join the coaching staff that was headed to the World Junior Championship in 2006,” shared the former MAINEiacs head coach, and current Canadiens assistant. “I spent some time considering the idea and ultimately wound up working with the Under 20 team for the next three years.”
From his first moments as a member of the bench team led by head coach Brent Sutter, it quickly became apparent to Jodoin that the setup provided by Hockey Canada was designed to allow him to concentrate on nothing but hockey 24/7. Travel, communication, housing – no detail was neglected when it came to the job at hand. Without the distraction of dealing with the details, Jodoin was able to turn 100% of his focus towards making the best decisions when it came to assembling the team that would ultimately represent Canada at the tournament in Vancouver. With a nation of talented young hockey players at his disposal, all that was left to do was single out the best of the best.
“During the selection process, we divided the players into two seperate groups that we kept apart for the entire time,” explained Jodoin. “They didn’t eat together, they rode on separate buses. We even separated the hallway leading to their two locker rooms by a curtain, all with the goal of fostering a spirit of competition. We wanted them putting every ounce of their energy into competing to make the team.
“Cutting players was a heartbreaking thing to do knowing that getting the chance to represent their country was a huge dream for all of them,” he confessed. “They would cry because they knew what an opportunity it was to have the chance to play at the World Juniors.”
As tough as the cuts may have been, Jodoin and the rest of the coaching staff clearly made wise decisions as Canada ended up finishing the tournament with a spotless record. The host team remained perfect for all six of its games and capped it all off with a shutout against Evgeni Malkin and the Russians to capture a gold medal in front of their fans. Even with all the attention and pressure being heaped on them at the time, the young Canadian squad never took their eyes off the prize.
“It wasn’t hard to keep the team focused with the tournament being held in Canada. We were all on our home turf,” mentioned Jodoin. “When we got to the arena for the gold medal match, no one even said a word until only a few moments before the start of the game. It was magical; definitely a fairy tale moment for everyone.”
Naturally, more-than-satisfied with his work, Team Canada didn’t hesitate to invite Jodoin back the very next year when the tournament was held in Sweden. With the team now hitting the ice in a completely different environment, every step was taken to facilitate the transition for the Canadian players, many of whom would be experiencing competition outside of their country for the first time in their lives.
“When we arrived there, we basically took over our hotel. The first floor acted as everyone’s common space. It was where we ate our meals and spent our downtime. It was our relaxation area, with computers, phones and TVs showing North American shows,” recalled Jodoin, who at the time was working under the direction of head coach Craig Hartsburg. “We also had our own chef to make sure the guys all got to enjoy some familiar home cooking. No matter where we were, they went out and got all the ingredients they needed to make meals wherever we stayed.”
With the exception of a single exhibition game loss to the Swedes, Team Canada, led by Carey Price and Jonathan Toews, went on to repeat their perfect performance from the year before. For the second time in a row, the Canadians ended the tournament with a pristine record, topping the Russians once again to claim gold medal honors.
Despite the team’s inspiring performance, things might have gone differently for the Canadians had their two future NHL All-Stars not taken things into their own hands to lead the way in the semifinal game. Squaring off against Team USA in a tilt that went all the way down to the wire, Toews scored three times in the shootout and Carey Price shut the door when it counted to propel Canada into the next round. Regardless of what most might assume, there wasn’t a single frayed nerve on the Canadian bench as they faced the do-or-die situation against the Americans.
“At a certain point, you just stop being nervous,” confessed Jodoin, thinking back to the showdown. “With the amount of adrenaline you’re running on most of the time, you eventually realize that it doesn’t do you any good to be anxious. You just need to go on with life as you normally would.”
Making the decision to go for the hat trick, Jodoin accepted yet another invitation to help giude the national team in 2008. With a new roster of future superstars the likes of Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, John Tavares, Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban, Team Canada headed this time to the Czech Republic to defend their title.
Despite being handed their first preliminary-round loss since 2002 in the tournament that was also held in part in Pardubice, Canada kept their focus on the finish line and battled their way into the finals against Sweden. Matt Halischuk ultimately put the nail-biter gold medal game on ice for the Canadians, beating Jhonas Enroth in overtime to give his team their fourth WJC gold medal in as many years.
“I had always wanted to be part of a run like that,” admitted Jodoin, who joined the Rimouski Oceanic that same year. “It was a dream that I had for a very long time and I got the chance to live it out. To be able to coach in a game like that, that went into overtime; those are the kind of moments you dream of being a part of.”
Needless to say, Jodoin relished every moment of his success in helping lead the top Junior players in the country for three straight years. Having lived the experience of building such incredible team spirit in such a short period of time helped him feel like a new man every time he returned from a stint with the national team.
“Getting to go to the World Junior Championships felt like I was transported back to university for that short period of time,” finished Jodoin. “I learned so many new things that I was able to apply down the road. That sort of experience is priceless.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.
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