Olympic hockey boss Burke returns from Russia with optimism

Canadian Olympic men’s team general manager Sean Burke still has many miles to travel to scout hours and hours of games. But the man put in charge of following the back-to-back golden footprints of Steve Yzerman likes what he has witnessed so far.

Of course, there will be no NHLers made available for the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea in six months time. That’s why Burke was in Russia earlier this month, where he watched two different Canadian rosters play in two tournaments.

Canada played six games over 12 days, won four of the six outings and placed third in the events in Sochi and St. Petersburg.

The 50-year-old Burke refused to identify players who stood out, but he was pleased with the speed and intensity his two groups exhibited. He also was impressed with the mobility of the Canadian defence, particularly in the first tournament in Sochi.

“The biggest takeaway is that we needed to play these games to get a great evaluation on a lot of our players and also to see just how quick paced the hockey is going to be,” Burke said.

“The two games against the young Russian Olympic team [a 3-2 loss in Sochi] and St. Petersburg [a 3-0 loss in St. Petersburg] were fast and intense. It was a great opportunity for our players and staff to evaluate.”

Mason Raymond of Cochrane, Alta. certainly grasped his opportunity in Sochi. The 31-year-old veteran of 609 NHL regular season and playoff games scored twice in Canada’s 3-1 win against Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the third-place game in Sochi.

“To potentially say you can be an Olympian one day, it would be something special,” said Raymond, who scored three times in five games in Canada’s win at the Spengler Cup last December. “It’s a process that we’re going through here, and I look forward to hopefully the next opportunity to represent Team Canada and see where that could take me.”

Raymond continued to display plenty of chemistry with his 2016 Spengler Cup teammate Andrew Ebbett of Vernon, B.C. The two will be teammates with SC Bern in Switzerland this season.

In St. Petersburg, 26-year-old forward Taylor Beck scored twice and assisted on another goal in a tournament-opening 5-1 win against HC Sochi. The native of St. Catharines, Ont. split time in the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers organizations last season.

Return to roots

For Burke, being in charge of the Olympic team has been a return to his roots. Burke was 18 years old when he decided to leave the Toronto Marlboros to join the Canadian national team in 1986.

Burke played behind Andy Moog in the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, joined the New Jersey Devils after Canada’s fourth-place finish and returned four years later to lead Canada to a silver-medal showing in Albertville, France in 1992.

Burke has enjoyed a distinguished international record. Besides his two Olympics, he won gold with Canada at the 1997 and 2003 world championships, silver at the 1986 world junior and served as the backup for the title-winners in the 1991 Canada Cup.

After his playing days, he became a respected goalie coach and assistant general manager with the Arizona Coyotes and is now a pro scout with the Montreal Canadians,

Up next in Burke’s Olympic odyssey will be a return trip to Russia later this month to continue to scout Canadians in the Kontinental Hockey League. Hockey Canada vice-president Scott Salmond also will visit Russia on a scouting trip.

Then, Burke and his management team and coaching staff will scour the junior and college loops for potential help, but the main focus will be on Canadians playing in Europe.

The next Canadian roster will be built for an exhibition game against Switzerland on Nov. 8 and then the Karjala Cup in Helsinki, Finland, Nov. 9-12.

Canada will compete in two more tournaments in mid-December — the Channel One Cup in Moscow (formerly known as the Izvestia Tournament) and the Spengler Cup over the Christmas holidays.

The Canadian rosters for the two tournaments in December will house many of the players who will play for Canada in Pyeongchang. But there still are many of miles and hours and hours of games to watch before Burke and Co. arrive in South Korea.

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CBC | Sports News