Saskatchewan hockey coach Willie Desjardins ready for his dream job at the Olympics
3 months after losing his NHL job, Desjardins found a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' coaching Olympic team
Willie Desjardins went from being out of a job to landing his dream job in just three months.
The Climax, Sask., native was named the head coach of Canada's men's hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics in July. He was fired as the head coach of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks in April.
"The NHL was a great experience. I had a chance to coach in Vancouver … but things didn't work out there, so I was looking for something else and I've always wanted to coach in the Olympics or somehow be part of an Olympic team," Desjardins said.
"When this opportunity was there, for sure I would take it because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Ironically, if Desjardins hadn't lost his job in the NHL he wouldn't have been allowed to live his dream of being part of the Olympics, because NHL commissioner Gary Bettman put an end to the NHL's participation in the Winter Olympic Games.
Desjardins will also be joined by Saskatoon's Dave King, who will serve as Canada's assistant coach.
On Thursday, Desjardins and Team Canada announced the roster they will be taking to Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month.
"I'm excited about it. I think that we have a good mix of guys. We have a good group. We have a lot of character players in that group," Desjardins said.
"It was exciting for lots of players.… You could tell they were pretty choked up about it when they heard the news and these guys even knew they were going to be on the team.… They were that excited about representing Canada."
Linden Vey from Wakaw, Sask., was the only player from Saskatchewan to make the roster. When asked why he didn't find a way to get more players from his home province on the team, Desjardins laughed and said he tried.
"That's something I argued for and they just wouldn't take them," he joked.
'Thorough job' of finding players
On a serious note, Desjardins said his staff looked at more than 100 players who had played for Canada in various tournaments in the past, and then countless other players.
"We did a real thorough job. We went through players from all over. There were quite a few Saskatchewan players that played in our tournaments.… We didn't look at where players are from when making the selection, we just looked at the players."
You have everybody cheering for you. It's a big responsibility for sure.- Willie Desjardins, Team Canada men's hockey head coach
Desjardins said having to rely on players outside the NHL posed a unique challenge when evaluating everyone.
"You had to compare leagues. You have a guy playing in the German league or a guy playing in the Swedish league, the Swiss league, or the KHL in Russia, and you have to try and compare not how they did in that league but how they would do playing for us."
Despite a different-looking hockey team for the upcoming Games, Desjardins is aware that expectations for Team Canada are the same: winning a gold medal. It's something Saskatchewan's Mike Babcock accomplished as Team Canada coach at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, and Desjardins is excited to have a chance to keep that streak alive.
"I think it's true for most Canadians — whenever they put on that Canadian jersey I think you can get a little bit more out of them," he said.
"You have everybody cheering for you. It's a big responsibility for sure."
The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games begin on Feb. 9.