The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Posted: 12/17/2013 11:08 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 12/17/2013 5:11 PM
CALGARY - A big NHL name with no previous experience coaching international hockey has stepped behind the bench of Canada's Olympic women's hockey team.
Kevin Dineen was introduced Tuesday as the replacement for Dan Church, who abruptly resigned last week.
Dineen was fired last month by the NHL's Florida Panthers. He's represented Canada as a player six times, but the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will be the first time he's coached a Canadian team.
Dineen called his hiring "hopping on a moving train" as the Sochi opening ceremonies are less than two months away. Two forwards and a defenceman must be released before the 21-player Olympic roster is named.
Dineen was born in Quebec City, but grew up in Toronto. The 50-year-old played in 1,188 NHL regular-season games, scoring 355 goals and adding 405 assists for the Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators.
He also played for the Canadian team that finished fourth at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
"That stuck with me a long time, not to come out of there with a medal," Dineen said. "I may have a little unfinished business from my Olympic experience."
Dineen was in his third season coaching the Panthers when he was dismissed Nov. 8. Looking for hockey work, Dineen said he contacted Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson early last week about the possibility of coaching at the men's world championship in April.
Church returned home to Toronto last Thursday without addressing the players. Hockey Canada said he left for "personal reasons." Church's explanation before boarding the plane was he felt there was a lack of confidence in his ability to coach Canada to Olympic gold.
The women lost 5-1 that evening to the United States with assistants Danielle Goyette and Lisa Haley co-coaching. The women went 1-1 in weekend games against male midget triple-A teams.
Dineen flew to Toronto on Sunday to meet with Nicholson, chief operating officer Scott Smith and women's team scout and general manager Melody Davidson.
"I was not expecting this opportunity," Dineen said. "This has been a whirlwind few days but when this opportunity presented itself I immediately jumped at it.
"You end up getting fired and you go through a range of emotions. Sometimes things happen for a reason. I think this may be my reason."
Dineen ran his first practice with the women after he was introduced to the media at a news conference.
The Canadian women have been training full time in Calgary since August and have already played more than 30 games.
The players were informed who their new coach would be just a few minutes before the news conference. They taped their names to the front of their helmets for practice so Dineen would know who they were.
"It was typical hockey school, trying to help him out a bit," goaltender Charline Labonte said.
"Right now, moving forward I think if we have the opportunity it's nice to have someone who played the game. No, he doesn't know much about women's hockey. He seems interested and I know he's watched a lot of tapes. I know he'll do anything to be ready and to learn about our game."
Canada and the U.S. will clash three times over the next two weeks in their final exhibition games prior to the Olympics, starting with Friday's matchup in Grand Forks, N.D.
Canada won women's Olympic hockey gold in 2002, 2006 and 2010, but has lost four of the last five world championship finals to the U.S.
Hockey Canada's plan was to announce the Olympic roster prior to their holiday break next week, but the timetable is murkier with the coaching change.
Five-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser says Dineen will have to adjust to dealing with female athletes, but she didn't feel his lack of international coaching experience would hinder his ability to coach the Canadian women.
"He's played for a long time and coached in the NHL and has a good track record of coaching experience and also playing internationally, so I'm not too concerned about that," Canada's all-time leading scorer said.
"It's different than the men's game, how you handle players, the way you approach team concepts and put the team together. Aside from that, the game on the ice, I don't think it's too complicated to what goes on the men's side.
"Men and women are different in the way they function and that's probably going to be the biggest adjustment for him."
Dineen's daughter Hannah is a freshman forward for Colby College in Maine and another daughter Emma is a soccer player. Dineen says he's coached Hannah and a team of Maine selects the last five years.
"I've been exposed to the intense, committed female athlete," he said.
Dineen says he's already asked his daughters for advice and they've told him to watch his language.
"Dad's vocabulary is sometimes . . . I think I've been in enough women's locker-rooms over the year to know exactly how they speak so I don't have a lot of concerns on that," Dineen said.
Davidson coached the Canadian women to gold in 2006 and 2010, but was adamant she would not step into the breach.
McGill Martlets head coach Peter Smith and former NHL players Doug Lidster, Ryan Walter and Tim Bothwell have all served as either head or assistant coaches of the Canadian women at previous Olympics and world championships.
But Hockey Canada went off the board to recruit a man fresh from the NHL ranks.
"The biggest thing is we needed a new voice overall and in the end it didn't come from within our program," Davidson said. "That's why I wasn't in the running, why I didn't want to be in the running.
"Kevin brings forth a lot of the qualities we wanted: a good communicator, has a history of building a good team environment, has international background, sincere.
"Even though he hasn't coached high-level, international women, when you have two daughters and a wife, you get a good touch of what it's like to work with females as well."
As it would be in the NHL when there's a sudden coaching change, Dineen had the women's full attention in Tuesday's practice because he is someone they need to quickly impress.
The women had spent the days since Church departure in limbo and were relieved an important question had been answered.
"Everyone has different feelings probably on what happened," forward Jayna Hefford said. "It's tough to see someone go who has invested so much in the program and Dan did that.
"It's been a challenging week for us. A lot of emotions and I think until this was put in place, it was hard for us to move on. Now, I think we're excited. We've got someone who has played the game at a high level and coached the game at a high level and has a passion for the game."
Dineen is the son of former NHL player and coach Bill Dineen, and his brother Gord also played in the NHL. The Panthers made the playoffs in 2011-12 when Kevin Dineen made his NHL coaching debut. Florida was 3-9 when he was fired.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to bring a lot of success to that team and they should do well," Panthers defenceman Erik Gudbranson said. "It's a different game. But good hockey minds figure stuff out."
Wickenheiser is day-to-day with a lower body injury she suffered in the first period of last week's game against the U.S. when she collided with a teammate. She participated in the first half of Tuesday's practice wearing a yellow no-contact jersey.
Forward Marie-Philip Poulin has played in only three games since September with a high ankle sprain. She skated prior to practice, but did not join her teammates for the full session. Poulin scored both goals for Canada in a 2-0 win over the U.S. in the 2010 Olympic final.
"We'll have her back in the New Year," Davidson said. "Whether we'll have her back earlier than that only the rehab and the time she puts into us we'll tell us that."
— Canadian Press reporter Stephen Whyno contributed to this story.
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