Alain Vigneault working with two key Flyers while directing Team Canada at IIHF World Championship
Sean Couturier, who scored a career-high 33 goals last season, is expected to be Canada’s No. 2 center behind John Tavares. Carter Hart, coming off an impressive rookie season, could serve as the backup goalie to Matt Murray.
New Flyers coach Alain Vigneault will be trying to direct Team Canada to the IIHF World Championship title this month, and with an added benefit: He gets to interact with two key players from his NHL team, center Sean Couturier and goalie Carter Hart.
Team Canada, aiming for its first gold medal since 2016, opens its schedule May 10 against Finland in Kosice, Slovakia.
Couturier, who scored a career-high 33 goals last season, is expected to be Canada’s No. 2 center, behind Toronto’s John Tavares (47 goals). Hart, coming off an impressive rookie season, could serve as the backup goalie to Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray.
Vigneault is looking forward to spending time with Couturier and Hart.
“It’s going to help me to get to know them, and for them to get to know me,” Vigneault said Wednesday, shortly before he arrived in Slovakia. “I’ve never coached anybody who’s on the Flyers team, and they’ll have sort of a firsthand look on how I like to do things and they’ll be able to talk to some of their [Flyers] teammates as we approach training camp. It’s a good step, it’s a fun step, and it’s a great opportunity for those two and myself to represent our country.”
Vigneault, the 12th-winningest coach in NHL history, is still working out Team Canada’s lineup, but he said the more experienced Murray will be the No. 1 goalie.
“At this stage, Matt Murray has won two Stanley Cups and there’s no doubt what he can do and he’s definitely the No. 1 guy,” said Vigneault, who also has Hart and New Jersey’s Mackenzie Blackwood in the goalie mix.
Hart, 20, who had a 2.83 goals-against average and .917 save percentage with the Flyers this season, will compete for playing time, Vigneault said, “and I’m looking forward to see how Carter is going to respond.”
Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh will be one of the assistants on Team Canada’s staff.
Vigneault tried to persuade Claude Giroux to play for Team Canada, but the Flyers captain decided to spend time with his wife, Ryanne, who is expecting their first child, a boy, in August.
“He preferred to stay back home, which is totally understandable,” Vigneault said.
Canada’s roster features Tavares, Couturier, Vegas’ Mark Stone (33 goals) and Jonathan Marchessault (25 goals), and Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart (65 points). Former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is part of Team Canada’s management group, and ex-Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, is one of Vigneault’s assistants.
Vigneault said Team Canada was not going to be considered one of the favorites, but most online betting services have Canada as the team to beat, with two-time defending champion Sweden, Russia, and the U.S. next in line in the 16-team field.
“I would say it’s like the NHL – once you’re in, who knows what will happen?” Vigneault said. “Quite a few [favored] teams got knocked off in the first round of the playoffs. It’s about going in there and putting your best game on the ice, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”
The tournament championship game will be held May 26, and Vigneault will return home and have meetings with Flyers’ scouts and executives the next day.
While Couturier and Hart will play for Team Canada, several other Flyers will also represent their respective countries: James van Riemsdyk (U.S.); Jake Voracek and Radko Gudas (Czech Republic); Oskar Lindblom and Robert Hagg (Sweden); and Michael Raffl (Austria).
Ivan Provorov will play for Russia if he signs a contract with the Flyers.