In a question-and-answer media session Wednesday at PNC Arena, Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters talked about winning the recent World Championship for Canada, Noah Hanifin, Sebastian Aho, Connor McDavid, Cam Ward and Red Square.
And showed off his new gold medal.
“It’s alway nice when you come home with a little hardware,” he said, smiling.
For Peters, the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia gave him the opportunity to be the head coach for Team Canada. A year ago, he was an assistant coach for the Canadian team that also won gold in the Czech Republic, but this was different.
“I know it was gratifying for Bill,” Canes general manager Ron Francis said. “He got a gold medal last year but this time he was running the show.
“When you’re coaching Canada, the expectations are either win the gold or it’s a failure, so the pressure is on the coaches and players. But they delivered the gold, winning a gold-medal game that was outstanding.”
Canada shut out Finland 2-0 in the gold-medal game in Moscow. That came a day after edging the U.S. 4-3 in the semifinals and five days after a 4-0 loss to Finland in a preliminary-round game.
Aho, 18, had a strong tournament for Finland, finishing with three goals and four assists. The forward, a second-round draft pick by the Canes last year, scored twice on the power play in the semifinals as the Finns ousted Russia 3-1.
Sebastian was outstanding in the semifinal against Russia … and he was dangerous against us, too. You’re definitely aware of him when he’s on the ice. I’d be shocked if he comes in and can’t make our hockey team. He’s done it at every level.
Canes coach Bill Peters on Sebastian Aho
Aho has since been named to Finland’s team for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, to be held Sept. 17-Oct. 1 in Toronto. He’ll then head to the Canes’ preseason training camp, and the 5-11, 176-pound forward could win a roster spot for the 2016-17 season.
“Sebastian was outstanding in the semifinal against Russia … and he was dangerous against us, too,” Peters said. “You’re definitely aware of him when he’s on the ice. I’d be shocked if he comes in and can’t make our hockey team. He’s done it at every level.”
Aho, playing on a line with Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, was a big part of Finland’s gold-medal winner in the 2016 World Junior Championship. He has played the past two seasons in the Finnish Elite League, the SM-liiga, with Karpat Oulu and been a part of a championship team.
Peters, asked Wednesday about the Canes’ top priority for next season, said, “We need some forwards. We need to score.” Aho, a dynamic player, could help fill that need.
Hanifin provided sound, solid play on the back end for Team USA. Carolina’s first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the defenseman made the Canes roster at 18, played 79 games on a blue line with promising rookie D-men Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, then was selected for the U.S. team in the Worlds.
“Noah got better as they went along, just as their team did,” Peters said. “He played with a lot of pace. Very poised, looked very confident.”
So did McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft by the Edmonton Oilers. Playing for Team Canada, the forward was called a “generational player” by Peters.
“He generates offense like nobody else, plays the game at an unbelievable pace,” Peters said.
When the final World Cup rosters were announced, the Canes had two players chosen: Aho and defenseman Michal Jordan of the Czech Republic. No Justin Faulk for the U.S. No Jordan Staal for Canada.
“They’ll be driven, if they feel snubbed, and use it as motivation,” Peters said.
The next month could be pivotal for the Canes, who have not been in the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009. They have seven of the first 74 picks in the 2016 NHL Draft and 10 picks overall, and could decide to use some of them to make some trades. NHL free agency begins July 1.
Ward, long the franchise goalie, will be an unrestricted free agent unless re-signed this month by the Canes. That’s Francis’ decision but Peters sounded like a coach very much in Ward’s corner, saying, “I have confidence in ‘Wardo’ for sure.”
While in Russia, Peters said he did do a little sightseeing, taking in Red Square in Moscow. Hockey Canada also brought over some family members, making the experience more memorable.
Peters will be a part of the World Cup as an assistant coach on Mike Babcock’s staff for Team Canada this fall, causing him to miss part of the Canes’ training camp. But he’s clearly pumped about his third season as Carolina’s coach.
“We have a lot of things going in the right direction,” he said.
NOTE: The Canes on Wednesday signed defenseman Josh Wesley to a three-year, entry-level contract. Wesley, 20, the son of former Canes star Glen Wesley, played with Niagara and Flint in the Ontario Hockey League last season. He was a fourth-round pick by Carolina in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.