TORONTO – It was early in Team Canadas training camp that head coach Benoit Groulx was lecturing his players about puck management. This was a group of highly-skilled players used to putting up huge point totals with their CHL teams and Groulx was stressing that he didnt want to see many fancy plays in dangerous areas of the ice. Specifically, Groulx mentioned, Tic-tac-toe plays. But the 46-year-old Quebec native suffered a slip of the tongue and said tao instead of toe. It was an awkward moment. At least at first. Everyone was just trying to hold it in, said defenceman Joe Hicketts with a laugh. He said it in the room and were all looking at each other and biting our shirts. I had my shoulder pads on so I started biting those. Benny has a pretty heavy accent, said defenceman Josh Morrissey, and it was a pretty serious meeting so as a player youre trying to take in the message, but at the same time when he dropped that line the players werent the only ones biting their shirts, the assistant coaches were too. Groulx eventually recognized the mistake. Then, finally, he started laughing at it so we figured it was alright, said Hicketts. Groulx didnt just find it funny. He saw it as a chance to set a tone. All of the sudden, Tic-tac-tao became a fun saying used to defuse tense situations. He even put the words on the team T-shirts the players have worn throughout the tournament. He knew it was funny so he kept on saying it to see our reactions, said forward Nick Paul. Its bringing us together, said captain Curtis Lazar. The mood in the dressing room just relaxes when he says it. Its kind of our thing, our motto and when times get tough, Tic-tac-tao! Even on the ice and on the bench during games you may hear the words. If we start panicking on the ice we just say, Tao, boys, and everyone resets after that, said Hicketts. It makes us rewind and refocus and think about what got us here, said defenceman Madison Bowey. After Canadas win over Finland, Groulx used Tic-tac-tao in one of his answers in his news conference. Reporters barely batted an eye, but the players were in for a treat the next day. We were watching some power-play video and we broke down one of our goals, which was a tic-tac-tao goal, said Lazar, grinning even wider than usual, and they pulled up that clip of him at the press conference and he said, Tic-tac-tao, and he had that little smirk after he said it knowing it would get a reaction from us and we died laughing in the dressing room. For the record, the man behind the words is pretty ho-hum about the whole situation. When you start building a team sometimes you have meetings with players and you end up with different scenarios and certain things are discussed within the room and we had that phrase, those words come out, and it was funny that day and we just stuck to it, said Groulx. But its pretty clear the players appreciate the fact their head coach is willing to do his part to loosen things up. Its awesome, said Lazar. Theres no real difference between the coaching staff and us players. Were all in this together. Were one and were a unit. Were joking around in the dressing room together, coaching staff included. To have that unity really helps out. Bennys got a lot of humour to him, but hes smart when to do it, said Morrissey. He knows when we need a kick in the behind and when we need some humour. Morrissey is one of seven players returning from last years squad that finished out of the medals. He senses a real difference with this years group. Thats a big point, actually, he said. This year were a lot more relaxed, but focussed and ready. Thats one of the things Benny is talking about: a loose, but ready atmosphere in the dressing room. When you have that its easier to play. Everything about the world juniors seems to be under the microscope in this country. And the expectation seems to be, rightly or wrongly, that Canada will win gold. It isnt necessarily a recipe for fun times. But this year the team seems to be having a lot of fun whether its Max Domis tongue-wagging celebrations, chatterbox Zach Fucale getting duct tape as a gag Christmas gift or Lazar blowing Hicketts a kiss after he converted his beautiful pass into a goal Friday night. Were a very loose group and sometimes it worries me a bit, Lazar said with a laugh. Sometimes a group just meshes well and everything comes together. Canadas knockout-stage draw was as good as Groulx could have hoped with debutant Denmark an easy out in the quarters and Slovakia, a team Canada beat 8-0 in the round robin, due up in the semifinals. But at this point, Canada with its incredible speed and pace is likely the favourite in any game against any team at this tournament. After the 8-0 win over Denmark, Groulx praised his players for not being selfish and looking to pad their statistics. There just seems to be something special about this group. If youre in the locker room its like weve been playing with each other for our whole lives here, said Paul. Everyones really comfortable and we treat each other like brothers. The energy we have is amazing and once we get going its unstoppable. Were really tight in the dressing room, said Bowey. We came together really quickly. Were a band of brothers, I guess you could say, and I think you see that on the ice. Custom Pittsburgh Steelers Jerseys
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