Willie Desjardins fronts Canadian Olympic hockey coaching staff
Ex-NHL goalies Martin Brodeur, Sean Burke head up management team for Pyeongchang
Former Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins will lead a group of non-NHL players at the Pyeongchang Olympics next February in South Korea.
Longtime Canadian coach Dave King and ex-NHL forwards Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft were named assistants at the Hockey Canada Hall of Champions on Tuesday.
Former NHL goaltenders Sean Burke and Martin Brodeur will be Canada's general manager and management team member, respectively. They join Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney, president and COO of Hockey Canada Scott Smith and Scott Salmond, vice-president of hockey operations and national men's teams.
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"The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same," Renney said. "With the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success."
Three months ago, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman put an end to NHL players' participation in the Winter Games in Pyeongchang because the International Olympic Committee refused to cover the travel, insurance and hospitality costs.
Without the marquee names that won gold at the 2002, 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Pyeongchang ends a streak of five consecutive Winter Olympics with NHL players.
While many have called this Plan B, Renney sees it differently.
"This is our plan, it is our Plan A," he told a media conference call Tuesday. "It's a twist of fate for sure, but we love the opportunity thanks to the gentlemen that we have introduced earlier today."
Desjardins, 60, is not employed by an NHL club after the Canucks fired him on April 10 following a second straight missed playoffs.
Under the Climax, Sask., native, Vancouver was 29th in the 30-team NHL in the 2016-17 season with a 30-43-9 record for 69 points, fewest by a Canucks outfit over an 82-game campaign since 1999. In three seasons, Desjardins compiled a 109-110-27 mark.
The Canucks hired him in June 2014 and watched Desjardins guide the club back to the Stanley Cup playoffs the following April after a 48-win regular season.
Before arriving in Vancouver, Desjardins led the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League to a Calder Cup championship. He won the AHL's coach of the year award in 2013 when he led the Stars to their first-ever South Division regular season title.
Prior to his AHL tenure, Desjardins spent two seasons as an associate coach with the Dallas Stars from 2010-12. In junior, the ex-Medicine Hat Tigers bench boss was Western Hockey League coach of the year for the 2005-06 season and tops in the Canadian Hockey League in 2006.
Desjardins' resume also includes stints on Canada's staff at two world junior tournaments and one world championship.
Hockey Canada has finalized an exhibition schedule of games that will see Olympic candidates play in Russia at the Sochi Hockey Open , Aug. 6-9, with early games against host HC Sochi and the Russian national team, and the Nikolai Puchkov Tournament in St. Petersburg, Aug. 14-17.
Rosters for those events have already been stocked with the likes of former NHLers Max Talbot, Derek Roy, Mason Raymond, Ben Scrivens, Justin Peters, Cam Barker, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Carlo Colaiacovo — all now playing in Europe.
"We're going to play these two events in August, hopefully find out a lot of things that we have. But we're going to have to also find out some of the things we don't have," said Burke, adding he expects the bulk of Canada's Olympic roster to come from European-based players.
"Any player that's eligible, whether he's playing in North America on an AHL contract or in college, junior, we don't want to leave any stones unturned."
King still has winning touch
These tournaments are part of the Kontinental Hockey League's pre-season schedule.
King, 69, will stand alongside Desjardins after he returned to the Canadian national team bench for the first time since the 1999 world hockey championship last November at the Deutschland Cup in Augsburg, Germany, where his charges finished second to Slovakia. Six months later, King was an assistant with Canada's team that won silver at the world championship.
King began his international coaching career in 1982 with a world junior gold medal and world championship bronze before adding bronze at the world juniors the following year. He was Canada's full-time head coach from 1983 until the 1992-93 season when the Calgary Flames hired him, and was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame as a builder in 2001.
Walker, 44, has been a player development consultant with the Canucks since October 2015. The Cambridge, Ont., native racked up 151 goals, 397 points and 1,162 penalty minutes in 829 regular-season games in a 15-year NHL career with Nashville, Carolina, Washington and Vancouver.
Following his playing career, Walker was head coach with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League from 2010-15, winning a league title in 2014. Internationally, he won gold with Canada as an assistant at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka tournament and 2015 world juniors.
The 47-year-old Woodcroft is the new head coach with the Swiss club Geneve-Servette after leading Dinamo Minsk of Russia's Kontinential Hockey League last season. He was an assistant coach with Belarus at the world championship in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
As a player, Woodcroft appeared in 63 games with Canada's national squad, winning a bronze medal at the 1990 Goodwill Games.
International management experience
The Toronto native was drafted to the NHL in the seventh round in 1988 but never suited up for a game. His experience in the league includes two seasons as a skill development coach with the St. Louis Blues and two years as director of rookie development camp with Nashville.
Burke, 50, has been a professional scout with the Montreal Canadiens since last September. The Windsor, Ont., native also spent six seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes' management team in various roles after playing 820 NHL regular-season games.
He has international experience as an assistant GM with the Canadian men's team that won world championship silver two months ago and was GM of this year's Deutschland Cup and 2016 Spengler Cup championship teams. A two-time Olympian, Burke won two gold and two silver medals as Canada's goalie at the world championship.
Brodeur, 45, was named Blues assistant general manager in May 2015 after a Hall of Fame playing career that saw the Montreal native become the NHL's all-time winningest goalie with 691 victories. The three-time Stanley Cup champion will return to the front office on a full-time basis after doubling as the Blues' goalie coach following Jim Corsi's firing late last season.
During his playing days, Brodeur was named the NHL's top goalie four times and represented Canada eight times internationally, winning the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, Olympic gold in 2002 and 2010 and world championship silver in 1996 and 2005.
The Winter Olympics men's tournament begins Feb. 9, with the gold-medal final Feb. 25.
With files from Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press & Associated Press