As Canada was pulling off its dramatic come-from-behind gold medal victory at the World Junior Hockey Championships, a former Sarnia Sting was working feverishly behind the scenes.
As Canada’s pre-scout coach, Alan Letang studied the opposing teams and prepared video clips on demand for coaches Mark and Dale Hunter, of Oil Springs.
“Hockey Canada goes into that tournament wanting to be the most prepared team,” Letang told The Journal.
That’s (our) slight advantage over those countries. In a short-term tournament you don’t have a lot of time to prepare for your opponents.”
Canada erased a two-goal deficit in the third period to defeat Russia 4-3 on Jan. 5, securing Hockey Canada’s 18th gold medal at the U20 tournament.
Letang is head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack. He played for the Sting in the 1994-95 season – the first year after the OHL club moved to Sarnia from Cornwall.
Letang and his wife and two children spend their summers in Sarnia, and their son Ayden plays for the Sarnia Legionnaires.
That one season with the Sting made a strong impression on Letang, and he remains in touch with many friends he met at that time.
His coach in Sarnia was Mark Hunter, who with brother Dale led the Canadian squad in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
At the world juniors, Letang drove from venue to venue shooting video and taking notes at other matchups. Sometimes, including the quarterfinals, he would study four games a day.
The data Letang collected helped Canada break down the offensive and defensive strategies of other teams, and provided the bench with valuable insights.
When Canada was playing live, Letang was in a video room, grabbing video clips on the fly and in constant radio contact with the bench.
A blowout 6-0 loss to Russia on Dec. 28 was a turning point, Letang said.
“Sometimes, getting humbled like that is a blessing in disguise, and our kids responded really well,” he said.
“It just made our coaching staff work a little harder, knowing that the potential of having a rematch with (Russia) was huge.”
The rematch came on Jan. 5 with the gold medal on the line.
After Canada scored a pair to tie the game in the third period, Letang got busy prepping video clips for 3-on-3 scenarios, assuming Canada and Russia were headed to overtime.
But with 3:58 left Canada’s Akil Thomas scored the winning goal.
“We had just enough time to grab our coats and start running down to the bench,” he said.
“It was something I’ll never, ever forget.”