QUEBEC CITY – Of the sixteen teams competing in the World Championships in Quebec and Halifax, six have a Canadian head coach: Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, and Switzerland.
Their routes to the World Championship have been different, some have applied for a job with a European federation, like Mike Sirant in Denmark, others have worked their way up to the work after a long work history in the country, like Ralph Krueger in Switzerland, and some have been invited to the job through the Embassy, like Glen Hanlon.
It’s not every day the Embassy is doing scouting.
What is common for all of them, is that they embrace the opportunity of living and coaching in Europe. That, and the fact that they all live and love hockey.
Of all the coaches, Team Finland’s head coach Doug Shedden is different in that his team is expected to be battling for the medals, even gold. He got the job as Finland’s bench boss after a year and a half of coaching in the Finnish Elite League.
“The top people at the Finnish federation felt that there weren’t enough Finnish top head coach candidates, and they asked me,” he said in an interview before the tournament.
“I was honored and dumbfounded that they thought so highly of me,” says Shedden who took his teams to a silver and two fourth-place finishes in the Finnish league. Now, he’s back in Quebec where he played with the Nordiques in the late 1980s.
Or, hopes to be next week. That would mean that Finland has made it to the semifinal.
But for some, the road has been longer.
Even if you don’t take into consideration that Italy’s coach Michel Goulet’s father fought in Italy in World War II.
“I worked 27 years coaching hockey at the University of Ottawa, and now I’m teaching the Italians to embrace the Canadian style of hockey,” he says.
“In Italy, to improve the level of hockey, we have to improve coaching and get more kids to play hockey. That’s the only way forward for Italy, because we don’t have the money nor do we want to bring in “italos”, like Roberto Luongo, like Italy did in the past, with for example, goalkeeper Jim Corsi,” he says.
Dave Henderson moved from Montreal to France 33 years ago, to play hockey in Amiens, where he still resides. He took the team to the top division last year, and is doing his best to keep it there.
“For French hockey, it’s good to be here, and we learn something all the time. When I was the coach of the under-20 French national team, we once lost 15-0 against Canada, and we learned a big lesson right there,” he said after the team’s 9-0 loss against Sweden. For him, being back in Canada has been a nice homecoming.
“Since I’m from Montreal, I’ve had family here to watch the games, and it’s been nice,” he says.
Many of the head coaches in the smaller hockey nations are also responsible for the general development of the federation’s hockey programs.
“It’s my second season with the national team, as head coach and sports director, responsible for all the national teams,” says Mike Sirant, Denmark's coach.
“The Danes are skilled, they had good puck possesion skills, and they stick to the system well, but there was little overpassing so we added some Canadian style aggressitivity to their game. Being at the World Championships is huge for hockey in Denmark, it markets the sport in the country, so maintaining our place in the top division was really important.”
Sirant and his gang are now trying to qualify for the Olympics for the first time. The road to the top is long as Ralph Krueger knows after his 11 years with the Swiss national team. He’s happy to see so many Canadian coaches at the tournament, and making it in Europe.
“It’s a bit of a numbers' game, there are over half a million Canadians playing hockey, a lot of us come to Europe, and end up in these positions, but I’m always proud to see a Canadian succeed in Europe,” he says.
While the day-to-day work of a coach is the same regardless of where the World Championship is played, says Krueger – “it’s just practice, video, game, practice, video, game” – he’s happy to be in Canada again.
“Not only has it been great to see Quebec City, I’m really happy to see what playing in the World Championships in Canada, and the small rink, is doing to my players. I wish the rinks were made smaller in Europe as well,” he says.
Team Canada going undefeated in the tournament, and the seven coaches (Belarus’s head coach Curt Fraser is also Canadian) behind the benches is a great testament to Canada’s dominance in the hockey world.
“A lot of the credit of the success of Canadian coaches goes to Bob Nicholson at Hockey Canada who has built a great coaching training program,” says Glen Hanlon, Belarus’s assistant coach.
“The Canadian coaching training is excellent, and Canadian coaches are willing to learn new things all the time. I’m 60 years old and I’m still learning,” adds Goulet, smiling.
With all the time in Europe, there’s a piece of Canada in each of the gentlemen.
So, what exactly is the most Canadian thing about you?
Doug Shedden: “My love of the outdoors, and that say “eh” a lot.”
Mike Sirant: “I’m competitive, and I love hockey.”
Ralph Krueger: “My love of the nature. Also, Canadians like to call a spade a spade. I do, too.”
Dave Henderson: “I love to play and coach hockey. I love it.”
Michel Goulet: “The love of hockey is in my blood.”
Glen Hanlon: “I love hockey.”
Ain’t that Canada. Eh?