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Worlds already a full-time job for Canada's assistant GM Armstrong

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Worlds already a full-time job for Canada's assistant GM Armstrong

The Canadian Press
By:

The upcoming IIHF World Hockey Championship is never far from Doug Armstrong's mind.

Whether he's on the road scouting games or sitting at home in Dallas, the assistant GM of Team Canada is almost always thinking about the challenge that lies ahead.

It's been 22 years since a host team won the world championship and every member of the Canadian staff expects that streak to end in Halifax and Quebec City this May.

Ensuring that it does requires a lot of work behind the scenes and that's why Armstrong is already fully immersed in his job. The former Dallas Stars GM also has more time to devote to the worlds than GM Steve Yzerman and fellow assistant Luc Robitaille, who each have executive roles with an NHL team.

"It's different for me than it probably is for Steve and Luc," Armstrong told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "This is my day job. I've been able to pore a lot of my focus and energy into it.

"I'm doing a lot of work on it right now and I'm doing it because I want to give Canada a chance to do something that hasn't been done in a number of years - win on home soil."

The work took Armstrong to New York, Washington and Philadelphia last week and will see him visit Florida next week. He spends about half his time on the road and is in constant contact with Yzerman to discuss players and potential coaches.

Armstrong worked as a special adviser to Yzerman on the team that won gold last year in Moscow. The two had never met prior to that experience but Armstrong found it easy because it was just like working under his former boss.

"He reminds me a lot of working for Bob Gainey," said Armstrong. "Very understated, very quiet, but very firm. He has a great understanding of the game and even probably a better understanding of team.

"Working with Gainey and watching him put together that Minnesota/Dallas team - the values that he put into a team - I see a lot of those same characteristics in Steve."

The 43-year-old Armstrong spent 17 years in the Stars organization prior to being fired in November. All that experience taught him that the job of an assistant is to provide the GM with the information he needs to make decisions.

Even still, Yzerman also asks for Armstrong's opinion on matters pertaining to the Canadian team. Working with one of the greatest NHLers of all-time has been an enjoyable experience.

"There's no ego," said Armstrong. "I think you're always waiting for someone of that stature to flex their muscle. And he never did that and hasn't done that in all the time I've worked with him.

"He's very strong but he's very thoughtful when taking people's opinions. He really listens to what you say and then evaluates it."

The management team is heavily involved in planning right now.

The first round of the NHL playoffs should be pretty much finished by the time Canada opens training camp April 24 in Quebec City. The team plays its first game of the tournament May 2 in Halifax.

That gives them more time and a wider pool of players to choose from than in years past. They won't talk to anyone until NHL teams start getting officially eliminated from post-season contention.

"We're very respectful of where the players focus should be and will be," said Armstrong. "Hockey Canada's never wanted to contact players directly that still mathematically have a fighting chance.

"With the tournament not being until May, we have a lot of time. We're doing our work behind the scenes."

Armstrong and Yzerman each have last year's experience to draw on. That undefeated team featured some stars in Rick Nash and Eric Staal but also included role players like Jason Chimera, Jamal Mayers and Mike Commodore.

Selecting the Canadian team isn't as easy as simply asking the best available players. One thing Armstrong noticed is how many players have undisclosed injuries that aren't released until the end of the playoffs.

That happened a year ago with Sidney Crosby, who Hockey Canada coveted before finding out he had a broken foot.

"We don't know those things so you have your 'A' list and then you have your secondary list," said Armstrong. "What you want to try and do is be as prepared as possible for whatever roadblocks may come up."

With the tournament being held in Canada for the first time ever, it's hard to imagine that there will be as many roadblocks as in the past.

It will be difficult for players to turn down an invitation this year.

"The players should be excited to play on home soil in front of Canadian fans," said Armstrong. "A lot of players that Steve is going to talk to are going to be potential players for the 2010 Olympics.

"There's no better time to put your best foot forward than right now and start impressing Hockey Canada."

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Worlds already a full-time job for Canada's assistant GM Armstrong