In the hockey world, there are few things more important than chemistry – a team that is close-knit with players that come together quickly, on and off the ice, for a common cause often finds success.
But what about the staff, the group that makes things run behind the scenes, and behind the bench?
Six years after a quartet of Windsor Spitfires – Ryan Ellis, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, and Greg Nemisz – helped Canada’s National Junior Team to silver at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship, another Spitfires contingent is representing the red and white.
Assistant coach Trevor Letowski, team physician Dr. Roy Diklich and therapist Joey Garland have all taken time away from the Spitfires to join Team Canada at the 2016 world juniors.
“Every time you get to represent your country and be a part of something special like this, you jump at that chance no matter if you have a club player or not.” says Letowski, who was a late addition to the Canadian coaching staff; he stepped in in October when Martin Raymond had to give up his spot.
Although it is the first time all three have taken part in an international competition together, they are certainly no strangers to the Hockey Canada family, and the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Letowski found success on the ice, winning gold with Canada at the 1997 world juniors, Diklich was the team doctor at the 2003 tournament in Halifax, N.S., and Garland is back for the second time in three years after working with Team Canada in 2014.
And while they’ve all momentarily left behind a Windsor team that currently leads the West Division of the Ontario Hockey League, all three agree that it’s always worth it to get experience on the international stage while gathering memories to last a lifetime.
“As a doctor, I always appreciate the relationships I develop with the players, the coaches and the Hockey Canada personnel that are with me,” says Diklich of his past world juniors experience. “It’s mainly those relationships that stand out the most for me.”
For Garland, his previous didn’t end with a medal as for his colleagues – Canada finished fourth in 2014 – but it left him in awe because of the support Canada received overseas in Malmö, Sweden,.
“It felt like we were in downtown Toronto,” he remembers. “We were walking around and seeing so many Canadian jerseys, it was absolutely mesmerizing and an unreal experience.”
Apart from the opportunity to share this edition of the tournament with his Spitfires co-workers, Garland will also have his wife and parents join him in Helsinki, making his time away from home that much more special.
“Having them here to experience it all with me is massive. I grew up at home watching the tournament every year, so knowing they’re here in the stands living it with me is truly awesome.”
But while both Diklich and Garland agree that not much has changed in their duties over the years, the same cannot be said for Letowski, who went from being on the bench in 1997 to behind it in 2016.
Despite playing more than 600 NHL games with Phoenix, Vancouver, Columbus and Carolina between 1999 and 2008, Letowski remembers his IIHF World Junior Championship as if it happened yesterday.
“It’s the one memory that sticks out to me as a player,” he says. “It’s the only time I ever won a major championship and for it to be a gold medal for your country, and with that group of guys, it’s something I’ve never forgotten.”
While being an assistant coach doesn’t change the pressure and the excitement of representing your country on the biggest stage in junior hockey, Letowski says the major difference comes not on the ice, but in the way the tournament is covered, particularly through social media.
“People can follow along non-stop and no matter where they are these days,” he says. “Other than that, not a lot has changed among the core of the event and its core values.”
So while the Windsor trio won’t be making an impact on the ice, they each bring something crucial to the success of Team Canada – behind the bench, in the dressing room or on the physiotherapy table.
Three men with different roles, from one team, looking to contribute to one common goal: making golden memories.