CALGARY – Tom Renney doesn’t have trouble listing the reasons he feels no other country will be as well prepared as Canada when it comes to the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“This is a staff that is second to none,” said Renney on Tuesday in Calgary as Hockey Canada unveiled its management and coaching staffs for the PyeongChang Olympics. “You would be hard pressed to find another country that can have this level of intellect, experience, passion, and this level of commitment to the job.”
Hockey Canada named two-time Olympic athlete Sean Burke (1988 in Calgary and 1992 in Albertville) as the team’s general manager as Canada, as all other nations, prepare for the first Olympic Games since 1994 that will not feature NHL athletes. Burke, who enjoyed a long and successful NHL career in net, also won two gold medals with Canada at the 1997 and 2003 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Martin Brodeur will work alongside Burke as a member of the management group, which also features Hockey Canada CEO Renney, president and COO Scott Smith and vice-president of hockey operations and national men’s teams Scott Salmond.
Team Canada’s coaching staff, also announced on Tuesday, features head coach Willie Desjardins and assistants Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.
“The Olympics are the greatest sporting event we have,” says Burke. “Preparing for February 2018 is a great challenge. This is probably the first time that so many countries feel they have a chance to win, including us. We have put together the right staff to do just that. Our coaching staff has a lot of experience and we’re also fortunate to have some youth.”
A lot of that coaching experience comes from the master Dave King, a legend in Canadian hockey coaching who got his start in 1982 with two international medals as a coach (gold at the 1982 IIHF World Junior Championship and bronze at the 1982 World Championship). King became Team Canada’s full-time coach in 1983-84 and held that position until 1992-93 when he joined the NHL’s Calgary Flames. King led Canada to a silver medal at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, a team that featured Sean Burke in net. Among King’s many accomplishments include being named a Member of the Order of Canada (1992) and induction into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and IIHF Hall of Fame.
Desjardins, meanwhile, is also a coaching veteran and has had stints with the NHL’s Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks, along with the AHL’s Texas Stars (Desjardins coached the club to the Calder Cup title in 2014). Internationally, Desjardins was assistant coach at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship (Canada won gold) and then led the team as head coach at the 2010 World Juniors, where Canada won silver.
Scott Walker, who played for Canada’s National Men’s Team in 1992-93 and at three World Championships and has coached Canadian teams at the U17, U18 and U20 levels, is another Team Canada assistant coaching. Rounding out Canada’s staff is Craig Woodcroft, who played on Canada’s National Men’s Team from 1988-94 and has coached for several years in Europe. Woodcroft is entering his first season as head coach of Geneve-Servette HC of the NLA. He coached Dynamo Minsk of the KHL in 2016-17.
“When I talk about our coaches, I’m lucky,” says Desjardins. “I’m so lucky to be able to work with these guys. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. We look forward to it and we’ll go hard at it every day.”
The men’s hockey tournament is scheduled to open on 14 February 2018. Between now and then, Canada will compete in five tournaments to prepare for the Games.
Canada’s National Men’s Team will start its 2017-18 season with two events in Russia in August, the Sochi Hockey Open (6-9 Aug.) and the Nikolai Puchkov Tournament in St. Petersburg (14-17 Aug.). From 9-12 November, Canada will take part in the Karjala Cup in Helsinki and, in December, Canada’s team heads back to Russia for the Channel One Cup in Moscow. The final tournament for Canada prior to the Games is the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, 26-31 December.
“We have world-class people and a world-class schedule,” says Salmond, a VP at Hockey Canada. “We will have a team that will make Canadians proud but also give us a good chance to defend our gold medals from Vancouver and Sochi.”
Canada’s roster will be made up largely of Canadians playing for professional teams in Europe.