Field of Play: Kevin Dineen hire shows growth of women's hockey | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Kevin Dineen hire shows growth of women's hockey

Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 | 04:20 PM

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Former NHL bench boss Kevin Dineen speaks at Tuesday's news conference in Calgary, where he was named the head coach of Canada's Olympic women's hockey team. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press) Former NHL bench boss Kevin Dineen speaks at Tuesday's news conference in Calgary, where he was named the head coach of Canada's Olympic women's hockey team. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

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Tuesday's announcement that Kevin Dineen has been hired as the head coach of the Canadian women's hockey team shows a significant shift in the landscape of the game.
Tuesday's announcement that Kevin Dineen has been hired as the head coach of the Canadian women's hockey team shows a significant shift in the landscape of the game, albeit at the 11th hour.

For the first time, a bench boss with credentials in the biggest hockey league of all is at the helm of the national women's program.

This, combined with the fact that the late change by Hockey Canada has garnered widespread media attention, helps to deliver the message that the fortunes of the national women's team are, at long last, on the radar of most sports fans in this country.  

Dan Church's resignation a mere eight weeks from the Sochi Olympics couldn't produce the same effect that, say, a Mike Babcock walk away from the men's team would have, but make no mistake, it resonated loud and clear.

"It would be tough for an outsider to come in at this point," said veteran forward Jayna Hefford in the wake of Church's exit. "Ultimately, as players, we don't have a say. But I want to win a gold medal and we just have to find a way to move forward."


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International experience

Dineen might be the way forward, and there's no doubt that Canadian fans are expecting gold from the women in Sochi.

As a player he has extensive international experience, having appeared in four world championships (1985, '87, '89 and '93) and at the Olympics in 1984 when Canada finished fourth in Sarajevo. He scored 355 goals in nearly 1,200 NHL games and was the captain and leader of his team, not to mention an All-Star. Dineen also played for the national men's team at the outset of his career in 1983-84 when the squad was centralized in Calgary under coach Dave King.

He knows first-hand, as a performer, what international play at the highest level is all about, and that's more than can be said for any previous coach of the Canadian women's team. In addition, Dineen has been coach of the year in the American Hockey League with Portland and taken the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That he should be interested in guiding the women at the Olympics is proof that Dineen does not come at this with preconceptions with regard to the differences that might exist in coaching males and females.  

In fact, the opposite might be true.

The Yashin effect

The encouraging lesson here seems to be that Dineen believes that he's a hockey coach first and foremost and that the game is played essentially by the same rules regardless of gender. Ultimately, the goal is to win on the biggest stage -- namely, the Olympics -- and that understanding is a step in the right direction.

While it's true that he comes to the program as an outsider and with little time to get the team in line, Dineen has at least captured everyone's attention. He'll admittedly have to rely on his existing staff and their knowledge of systems and personalities.

"Lisa Haley and Danielle Goyette will have to pick up a lot of slack," said Hefford.

But Dineen's hiring is not totally from left-field. Former NHL star Alexei Yashin has worked wonders as the general manager of the Russian women's team, leading them to their first ever medal performance at the last world championships. Yashin has spent much of his time working with the team in on-ice training sessions.

The best news of all is that when push comes to shove it doesn't matter whether or not the coach is a male or a female.

Those responsible for the national women's team have hired someone who they believe is best qualified to guide the squad on the Olympic field of play. And that means to the top level of the podium.

All in all, it looks like the women's team got their man in Kevin Dineen.

Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay.

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