As the father of two hockey-playing daughters, Kevin Dineen grasps that there’s a difference between the men’s and women’s game – in the rules, the tactics, even something as elementary as the saltiness of the language in the dressing room.
More than any other factor, it was Dineen’s familiarity with the women’s game – even if it just came at the club level – that made him the natural and logical choice to replace Dan Church as head coach of Canada’s 2014 Olympic team.
In many ways, Hockey Canada was lucky there was a coach with Dineen’s résumé to step in after Church resigned last week, citing personal reasons. Coaching changes always cause upheaval, but to make a switch with less than two months to go until the opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia, suggests there were issues bubbling below the surface no one involved with Hockey Canada was prepared to address.
Thankfully, one of Dineen’s strengths as a coach is his communication skills. The 50-year-old is seen as a player’s coach, paying his dues with the Portland Pirates of the AHL, and then parts of three seasons with the Florida Panthers, where he did what no one could in a dozen previous years: get them into the NHL playoffs (in 2011).
That doesn’t alter the fact the learning curve will be steep.
The players put their first names on their helmets Tuesday, so Dineen could tell them apart, but veteran forward Jayna Hefford joked one day was all he’d get.
Still, Hefford and the others seemed happy the week-long soap opera associated with Church’s sudden departure was coming to a close, and the team – which has won three Olympic gold medals in a row – was ready to get back on course.
Mindful of the circumstances of his hiring, Dineen suggested: “I’ve been coaching for a while and always one of my main jobs is to create a really quality, healthy environment for the players to come to every day. Unless those players are tricking us, that’s a tight cohesive unit. They’ve played well, they’ve been together. They’re a team. I’m getting in late on this process and I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but I feel there are areas that I can tweak that can help us maximize our potential.”
The offer to coach the national women’s team came from Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson last Friday, a day after Church stepped down. Dineen had contacted Hockey Canada a few days earlier, inquiring about the possibility of helping with the 2014 men’s world championship team. He was told a decision on that wouldn’t be made until after the Olympics, but there might be an opportunity on the women’s side. Was he interested?
“I said, ‘absolutely,’ but I needed to talk to my family about it,” Dineen said.
Once his family gave its consent, everything came together in a 48-hour whirlwind. Dineen flew to Toronto for an interview with the search committee last Sunday, met with the staff in Calgary on Monday, and was introduced to the team prior to Tuesday morning’s practice.
“What impressed me with the most when we were doing the research was reading an article online, where he talked about coaching his daughter and the differences between coaching her – and how boys play,” said Melody Davidson, Hockey Canada general manager of national women’s team programs. “That was really telling – because the game’s not the same. There’s differences – the fact that in some of his first experiences [coaching women’s hockey], he outlined that, said a lot to me.”
Danielle Goyette, one of the team’s holdover assistants, said she left the first meeting with Dineen thinking this was a new beginning for the team.
“I know he has a little bit of emotion,” Goyette said. “I watched him play. [Dineen played 1,188 regular-season NHL games between 1984 and 2002.] I liked the way he played. Sometimes, as coaches, it’s good to have someone come from the outside.”
Dineen suggested he would lean heavily on Goyette and Lisa Haley, the national team’s other assistant, for advice because he was “hopping on a moving train” and probably wasn’t going to make any radical changes at this late stage of the proceedings.
Canada’s current roster stands at 24, and it will have to be reduced to 21 some time in the near future.
“At the end of the day, everything’s in place for the players to be ready for the Olympics,” Goyette said. “If we started with a new team today, with 53 days to go to the Olympics, and we hadn’t done any conditioning, it doesn’t matter who’s coming in [as coach], I don’t think success will be possible.
“But this team is on the right track to be successful at the Olympics.”
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