Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dineen jumps into the fray, fits right in

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The scars on his chin, picked up along the way playing almost 1,200 NHL games, seem to throb with intensity as Kevin Dineen angles his jaw towards a reporter and ponders a question. Imagine what he's like when something, such as playing or coaching hockey, is important to him.

Intensity, instinct and a life in hockey are all Dineen is armed with as he steps into his next challenge. He doesn't know the players and has only a passing knowledge of the women's game gleaned from coaching his own daughter. Still, here he is, stepping into the action. This is win or fail. Simple as that and many would shy from the challenge but that's not Dineen.

This is just the next role of a hockey man and life into which he was literally born.

Patriarch Bill Dineen and his late wife Pat sandwiched the raising of six kids round Dad's hockey career, which included winning two Calder Cups, two Stanley Cups and two Avco Cups. A player and a coach in the NHL, AHL and WHA, Bill Dineen has done it all in hockey. His boys followed in his footsteps with Kevin and Gord enjoying long playing careers that have now morphed into coaching lives. Sons Pete and Shawn are scouts with NHL organizations.

If you've spent much time in pro hockey, sooner or later a Dineen has crossed your path.

He's 'just a guy that likes to go by feel and has a lot of emotion and passion that he likes to lead with. The team really enjoys him'

-- team Canada captain Hayley Wickenheiser, on new coach Kevin Dineen

Dineen is a decade removed from his playing career and well into a coaching life that has seen him named AHL coach of the year, be hired and fired by the NHL's Florida Panthers and now take over the challenge of running Canada's national women's team in an eight-week sprint to a gold or bust.

Dineen was asked by Hockey Canada to jump on a grenade when coach Dan Church abruptly resigned and he took the challenge because that's what makes him tick. The 50-year-old is still a ball of muscle from a lifetime on skates and while he was able to rely on genetic gifts as a player, his charisma and hard-earned hockey intellect are now his most important tools.

"He's a hockey coach. That's exactly what he is," said Hayley Wickenheiser, Team Canada's captain and maybe the greatest woman to ever play her sport. "Having played the men's game, it's a different approach on that side but this is a nice fresh energy for our team. There's an influx of knowledge that he brings and a lot of playing experience. Just a guy that likes to go by feel and has a lot of emotion and passion that he likes to lead with. The team really enjoys him."

Dineen has limited coaching experience in the women's game but during his time coaching the AHL's Portland Pirates his daughter Hannah was an elite player and he helped her club during spring tournaments.

 

But his knowledge of the international level is limited to just four days and one game on the job. The challenge is to represent Canada at the standard that has come to be expected from the women's program. Wickenheiser will be in playing in her fifth Olympics for Canada and to date has three gold medals and one silver. Dineen has no margin for error, which he understands and accepts.

"This is a completely new group to me and I'm getting to know their tendencies. We're working together and I've asked a lot of questions. I'm a long way away from where I was on my first day. Which was Tuesday," said Dineen, with a wry smile and more than a little bit of self-deprecation. "My family background helps me understand what a scouting job looks like and that's what we're talking about in terms of getting up to speed with what the other countries present. I've watched the Americans but I haven't seen the Europeans other than a little bit of Finland and Sweden. My focus right now will be on our group and what our strengths are and how we can mesh better."

Oddly, while Dineen was patrolling the bench in Grand Forks, the NHL team that fired him in November was skating just two hours north in Winnipeg against the Jets.

"There are a lot of people that you care about and spent a lot of time with, so you always wish places you've been well, but that's the nature of this business," said Dineen. "They've had some transition since I've been there and so have I. I haven't checked their schedule. When you throw yourself into something as I have here you go in 100 per cent. Trust me, I've got a lot of work on my plate."

Dineen has no intention of failing and while it's fair to say he's feeling his way around there will come a point where he will have to establish himself and go with his instincts.

Wickenheiser says she and her teammates are ready to follow Dineen but also to provide him with a solid foundation from which to work.

"There's a lot of pressure and expectations. I give (Dineen) credit for stepping into it and I don't think he's intimidated in the least," said Wickenheiser. "Our team is well on its way to where it needs to be in being ready for Sochi. It's not like he's inheriting a broken program."

As for whether the Dineen experiment will work, Wickenheiser gets the last word.

"It's gonna work. We're gonna make it work," she said.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2013 C1

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