Kevin Dineen led the Canadian women’s hockey team to gold at the Sochi Olympics, then got the call to coach the men’s under-18 team at the world championship in April.
Is he becoming Hockey Canada’s go-to guy?
“I don’t know about that,” Dineen said. “Mike Babcock’s Canada’s guy as well. He’s pretty busy.”
Sure, Babcock’s still around after coaching Team Canada to back-to-back Olympic gold medals and is immersed in trying to help the Detroit Red Wings overcome a plethora of injuries to reach the playoffs. And if NHL players return to the Olympics in 2018, Babcock would likely get the right of first refusal to go for three in a row.
But Dineen could play a major role in Canada getting to that point if he continues coaching internationally, a path he has taken since getting fired by the Florida Panthers in December.
“You’re hurt, you’re mad, you’re sad when you get fired,” Dineen said in a phone interview this week. “But at the end of the day I look back at this as the last two months is one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my whole life.”
Dineen considers himself a “product of Hockey Canada,” dating to his time playing in four world championships, the 1984 Olympics and the 1987 Canada Cup.
“When I look back at my playing career I always consider that one of the best experiences that I had,” he said. “Now to get back and be on the coaching side of it, it’s a thrill, it really is.”
Dineen experienced the thrill of victory in Sochi with the women’s team after taking over for Dan Church, who resigned two months before the Olympics. Dineen wanted to ensure that Canada peaked at the right time.
It worked throughout an undefeated tournament that ended with a stunning overtime win over the United States for Canada’s fourth straight women’s gold medal. Then Dineen got to soak it all in.
“With our success in Sochi, it was a great time for me to sit back and enjoy that, just watch how my players were able to get out and celebrate their medals in so many different NHL rinks,” he said.
While experiencing some down time following the Olympics, Dineen got a call from Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson asking if he was interested in coaching the men’s under-18 team at the April 17-27 world championship in Finland.
“I was thrilled immediately,” Dineen said. “I felt like I became a better coach when I worked with Hockey Canada the last couple months, and that was kind of my expectations on this one, as well.”
Dineen also might be a different kind of coach than he was during his stint with the Panthers. Women’s alternate captain Hayley Wickenheiser said at the team’s first Sochi practice that Dineen had to adjust to talking to women.
The 50-year-old Quebec City native recalled watching one of his pre-game speeches while coaching Portland in the AHL and being surprised at the number of F-bombs he dropped.
“I had no clue, right? You don’t even think about it,” Dineen said in early February. “You live and you learn. For me, it’s how you get your message across.”
Dineen learned quickly that the message Canada’s women’s players wanted was different from men he coached in the past. They didn’t just take his suggestions at face value — they wanted to know why.
“They want to know in-depth what the thinking is,” he said. “For me, that’s great. I love talking hockey. I’ll talk hockey all day long whether we’re talking about a strategic thing or personnel decisions.”
Dineen figures to be a prime candidate when Hockey Canada chooses the coach for the men’s world championship in Minsk, Belarus, in May. But that decision won’t be made until there is a management team in place.
“I’m just here to try to help out, which is really where I’m at right now,” Dineen said. “If I was asked, I’d certainly be honoured. But for me I know they have a lot of hard decisions and I’ve got my hands full in the next month working with these young players.”
Coaching in Minsk would further strengthen Dineen’s ties to Hockey Canada, something he’s proud to embrace.
“That’s the beauty of this: There’s so many people that have been touched by this group that that national pride comes out,” he said. “I feel like I’m honoured that they reached out to me and felt that I could work with these young men and help them prepare for this really important tournament.”