Vey, Desjardins come full circle with Canadian Olympic hockey team

In yet another twist of fate, Linden Vey finds himself back in the saddle of a team coached by Willie Desjardins. This time, it's with the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team.

Player, coach reunite on path to Winter Olympics

Canada's Linden Vey, left, has a long history with Olympic coach Willie Desjardins, including two years together in Vancouver. (Getty/Canadian Press)

In yet another twist of fate, Linden Vey finds himself back in the saddle of a team coached by Willie Desjardins.

They were together for three seasons in junior with the Medicine Hat Tigers, and two more with the Vancouver Canucks. This time, it's the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team.

Last spring, after his season with the AHL Stockton Heat abruptly ended in overtime of the fifth and deciding game against the San Jose Barracuda in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, Vey and his wife decided they needed a fresh start. So Vey looked to Europe to continue his career.

Even though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman already had put the kibosh to NHL players participating in the PyeongChang Games, the Olympics weren't on Vey's mind. The goal was to find the form he exhibited as the 2010-11 Bobby Clarke Trophy winner (WHL's top scorer) after struggling with his consistency as a pro.

Vey signed with Barys Astana of the Kontinental Hockey League in early July. A few weeks later, Desjardins was named head coach of the Canadian Olympic team and before the two of them knew it, they were together with the Canadian national team at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki earlier this month.

"We've had some good times and this will be another good experience," Vey said.

"When you're 15 and you're at your first training camp in junior, it's a big deal. He made an impression on me right away."

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This week, Rob Pizzo heads to Helsinki, Finland, to watch the Canadian men's hockey team play two games, against Sweden and Finland. He's also there for a Russian team practice, Team Canada photo day, and an interview with head coach Willie Desjardins and associate coach Dave King.

Vey made an impression with Desjardins, too. After all, they both are from Saskatchewan. Vey was raised on a farm in Wakaw, Sask., about five hours to the northeast of where Desjardins hails from in Climax, near the Saskatchewan-United States border.

As Vey developed in junior, Desjardins trusted his smooth-skating centre with increased ice time and key roles on some strong Medicine Hat teams. But with that trust came high expectations.

"It can be a mixture of good and bad when a coach like Willie knows me as well as he does," Vey said. "His expectations are higher with me because he knows what I've done in the past. So there is a little give and take."

Desjardins cares

Teammates also have come to Vey for some give and take on what Desjardins is like as a coach. What does Vey reveal?

"I tell them he is one of the few coaches I know who cares about each and every one of his players," Vey said.

"I went through a tough personal situation when we were together in Vancouver. Most coaches would turn the other way. He was very supportive and you don't see that much in the pro game."

Vey's personal situation received national attention. In 2013, his father Curtis and his mistress, Angela Nicholson, allegedly plotted to kill Linden's mother Brigitte and Nicholson's estranged husband, Jim Taylor. Curtis Vey and Nicholson were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder on June 5, 2016.

Desjardins downplayed his role in helping Vey deal with his on-and-off ice struggles during this difficult time.

"When it comes down to it all a player cares about with his coach is he is dealt with fairly and gets playing time," Desjardins said.

When PyeongChang rolls around, Desjardins will provide some quality playing time for Vey and his speedy Barys Astana linemate, Matt Frattin. The Canadian Olympic team will be Frattin and Vey's fourth team as linemates after stints together with the Los Angeles Kings and Stockton last season and in the KHL this year.

Frattin initially thought he was going to play with the KHL's HC Kunlun Red Star in Beijing this season. But after that deal fell through, Vey put in a good word for him with the Barys Astana general manager and the two were together again.

Just like Vey and Desjardins.


Tim has covered the hockey landscape and other sports in Canada for more than 25 years for CBC Sports, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Sun. He has been to three Winter Olympics, 11 Stanley Cups, a world championship as well as 17 world junior championships, 13 Memorial Cups and 13 University Cups. The native of Waterloo, Ont., always has his eye out for an underdog story.


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