Exhausting and rewarding.
That's how Dean Brockman, head coach and general manager of the Humboldt Broncos described his time on the coaching team of Team Canada West at the 2011 World Junior A Challenge in Langley, British Columbia November 7-13.
"It was an emotional roller coaster," Brockman said of the 18 days he was gone from home for the final Team West camp, and then the tournament itself.
Things didn't look good for Team Canada West heading into the final rounds of the tournament. They had lost to both Team Canada East and to Team Russia in the exhibition games, then fell to Sweden 2-0 and to the United States 6-1 in the round robin.
"We didn't win anything," Brockman smiled.
However, they did win their quarter-final game against the Czech Republic 4-1, and claimed victory over Sweden in the semifinal - 1-0 in overtime.
Then, in the final against Team Canada East, the West won again, this time 4-2.
So the team that won nothing early in the tournament ended up with the gold medal.
"We won the games that mattered," Brockman said. "You have to win the right games, and we did."
Coaching a team like Team Canada West, which includes players from all over the western part of the country, was a completely different experience than coaching a club team, Brockman indicated.
"It's a whole different concept," he said. "The kids are together such a short time. The more they play, the better they get, and you just hope you get more and more changes to play."
The coaches spent almost every hour with the team, he added.
"You devote your time to making sure all your players are ready," he said.
There are no lineup decisions to be made - there are 22 players on the team, who all get dressed and ready to play - and there's no other business that needs the coaches' attention like there is with their home clubs.
"Preparing (the players), looking after them - that's your focus," Brockman said.
Playing teams from different countries also required attention - and constant adjustment, Brockman noted.
The Swedes work extremely hard, the Russians and Czechs were very skilled, and the Americans could really skate. So playing those teams meant getting your team ready to shut those talents down.
"You do a lot more coaching in that time frame than you do with your own club," he stated.
Every little detail has to be studied.
"We were breaking games down by seconds, not minutes. It's that crucial," he said. "It kept your mind racing."
The strength of Team Canada West, Brockman believes, was that the entire team bought into the belief that "We can do this."
They decided to keep the game simple, and just outwork their competition from start to finish.
"It's really kind of amazing how a Canadian hockey player just rises to the challenge," Brockman said.
In their semifinal game against Sweden, for example, in the overtime period, the Swedes were beginning to show their nerves. They panicked. And the Canadians scored.
"We just kept playing our game," Brockman said, and that's what led them to victory.
"Our goal was just to step up to the challenge."
Heading to the Junior A Challenge to help the coaching team of head coach Kent Lewis of Powell River and fellow assistant coach Andrew Milne of Canmore, wasn't an easy thing for Brockman to do this year, when the Broncos are building for the RBC Cup Humboldt is hosting in May.
Brockman expressed thanks to Humboldt "for supporting me in this," and to the board of the Humboldt Broncos for allowing him to go and have this experience.
They didn't have a lot of contact with the outside world at this tournament, Brockman noted, and they were so busy, he didn't have a lot of time to catch up on what was happening at home, though it was always in the back of his mind.
But the intense experience has made him appreciate his home club - where there is less stress and more time to build - and his players.
"They are really good kids," he said.
Riley Kieser was the lone Bronco to make the final cut for Team Canada West. He played very well in the tournament, Brockman said.
"He got better and better as the tournament went on," he stated.
Kieser bought into what the coaches were saying about never giving up and keeping the game simple, and as a coaching staff, they were very pleased with his progress.
Brockman had nothing but praise for his fellow coaches in B.C.
Both Lewis and Milne suffered unexpected losses of family and loved ones during the tournament, Brockman noted, which led the team through a huge range of emotion.
But it also gave them a rallying point, and though they lost the game to the Americans in the midst of those losses, the team recovered to win.