VANCOUVER – Denis Hainault is no stranger to international hockey events, but VANOC's director of ice sports is gearing up for the biggest challenge of his career: the 2010 Olympics.
The 52-year-old Montreal native worked for Hockey Canada for nearly 15 years, supervising and managing both men's and women's national teams. Among his career highlights, Hainault won gold medals with World Junior squads in the 1990's and 2000's, and served as a team leader with Canada's Olympic squad at the 1998 and 2002 Winter Games. He was hired by VANOC, the 2010 Olympic organizing committee, in 2005.
With just less than four months to go before the Games kick off, the Hockey Canada Cup women's tournament played a vital role in testing Vancouver's operational readiness. IIHF.com caught up with Hainault to get some more insight.
Why is it necessary to hold an Olympic test event such as this?
It's really important for us to prepare and train our workforce volunteers. These people are not necessarily used to the processes that are involved in the Olympic Games. A lot of our volunteers are experts in the roles they're playing, but even for, say, off-ice officials, the roles can be different from what they do in the Canadian Hockey League or the National Hockey League. We also need to look at some of the modifications we're doing in the Olympics. This time around, the size of the benches has been extended to accommodate more players on the roster, as this is an IIHF event. The penalty boxes and the scorekeeper's bench are also being expanded. We know that this facility, GM Place or Canada Hockey Place as it'll be known during the Games, is a very well-run facility. It has everything you need to stage a good hockey event. It's just a question of adapting it to international use.
What are the biggest challenges that you face as the VANOC director of ice sports?
For me, it's a challenge overall. It's about building a team. We have different people working for us with different needs, and we need to get them to all work together in the same direction and deliver what'll probably be the biggest hockey tournament ever. There are little challenges that come up on a daily basis, but we overcome those as we move along.
How hard was it to find volunteers for the Hockey Canada Cup?
For the Hockey Canada Cup, we have a workforce of approximately 280, including 190 volunteers. Hockey being as big as it is in Canada, it wasn't particularly hard to get volunteers. People know how big the next step is, so we were able to find the proper people to run our programs. The biggest difficulty is for people to take time off from work. Many of them have even travelled and found accommodations at their own expense in order to be part of this. I'm very impressed with the type of commitment these volunteers are willing to give.
And how many volunteers will you need for the Olympics for hockey?
For hockey specifically as a sport, we'll have about 130 volunteers at Canada Hockey Place, and about the same number at UBC Thunderbird Arena. To run the venues, when you add it all up, it'll be close to 1,000 volunteers, including everything from press services to medical services and so on.
Have you gotten advice from Jukka-Pekka Vuorinen, your predecessor as director of ice sports during the 2006 Olympics in Turin?
Jukka-Pekka was instrumental in giving me a lot of knowledge. He gave me an opportunity to work at the Turin Olympics along with the organizing committee. In the early days of this project, I had some more communication with him. Now, because our project has become so much more specific to Vancouver, you have to focus on what you have to do here. But it's interesting, because right now I'm already starting to communicate with the people in Sochi about what needs to be done for the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
The physical layout of this arena is going to be different than the set-up during the Vancouver Canucks' NHL season, for instance, in terms of where the media is positioned or the dressing rooms. What goes into working out that configuration?
There are a lot of different groups that we have to accommodate during the Olympics, like the Olympic Family, the media, and the athletes. For instance, you need 12 dressing rooms to accommodate every single hockey team. Actually, in this building, we need 14, if I include the game-day dressing rooms. Whereas right now, GM Place has a maximum of five dressing rooms. So there is a lot of space that we have to review. It's a big part of what we do on a daily basis. We look at every space in this building to see how we can accommodate the different groups.
At the end of this test event, how do you evaluate what was done well and what needs to be better?
We will do a debrief as part of our process. We'll sit down with everyone. Obviously, you can never operate any test event at the same level as the Olympics, because the Olympics are unique and they're on such a huge level. But our staff are directed to look not just as this event, but how they're going to do things during the Games. We look at things we can do differently.
The ultimate question: are you going to be ready in February 2010?
I'm totally convinced and comfortable in saying we'll be ready to host the world in 2010. Of course, that holds true for the Olympics in general. But from a hockey point of view, this is a country that's hosting events on a regular basis. This is a city and a province that's hosted big events recently, like the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship. A lot of knowledge was gained from that. With the preparation, the commitment, and the interest of our population in the Olympic hockey tournament, there's no doubt we'll be ready.