HELSINKI - It may just be that the toughest part of Doug Shedden’s job as the Team Finland head coach is already behind him. Taking care of the media attention that the Finnish association’s decision to hire a non-Finn for the job, that is. The straight shooting Canadian knows how to work the dressing room.
Last time Finland had a foreign coach, Swedish Curt Lindstrom, the president of the association bumped into him at a hotel bar, and the negotiations began, the legend goes. With Shedden, there was a little more information available, after Shedden’s two seasons in the Finnish SM-liiga.
Still, and even if Finland won the world championship under Lindstrom, the decision to have Shedden take over the national team for one season, with the World Championships in Canada, and then leave it to Jukka Jalonen, stunned the country.
The dust has settled since, and Shedden has already had two Euro Hockey Tour tournaments under his belt. That and a 3-3 record. “It has been exciting to work with players that play for their country, and with everything being new,” Shedden says to IIHF.com.
“I didn’t really understand how much winning means when you play for your country, it’s very rewarding and special,” he adds. And for the Finns, it’s especially rewarding to beat the neighbours, Russia and Sweden, something that Shedden’s boys already have managed to do, even if the wins came in two separate tournaments. Russia’s loss to Finland in the Karjala Cup is also their only loss in the two tournaments.
“I know what it means to Finns to beat Sweden. I spoke with Jesse Saarinen, who scored the winning goal [in the first Channel One Cup game], and he couldn’t hide his smile, it was a big goal for him,” Shedden says. But that win didn’t come easily, and after the first period, few people believed Finland could win the game. Not only was it trailing by two goals, the team look anemic.
That’s when Shedden stepped in. Literally. Into the dressing room, addressing the players. “I lost my temper after the first period, I said the ho-hum skating around had to stop. I told them we cannot lose and I am very proud of the way the players came back,” Shedden says.
He’s known to be a straight shooter, someone who lets people know what he thinks and players know what is expected from them, and that, in turn, earns him respect in the dressing room.
“I believe in talking to the guys, I like to read the person and see who needs yelling, who needs encouraging, and so on,” he says.
Doubling as the head coach of Jokerit and Team Finland, is no walk in the park. “I’m so busy during those five days a national team tournament takes. The days are long. I only have the players for such a short time, but we need to put them in the system, get to know the players, and see what makes them tick,” Shedden says.
Clear job descriptions help, and Shedden has a good team of assistants around him. During a game, Shedden takes care of the forwards, assistant Jukka Jalonen the defencemen, and another assistant, Timo Lehkonen, keeps an eye on the opposition, their lines, face-offs, and so on.
“I’m getting to know the players, not only on my team, but in all other teams. I want to learn who their hot players are, how their coaches behave, and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he says.
“When I got the job, I wanted to have the best team in every tournament, but after talking to GM Jari Kurri, we decided to try something different, and to see more players at this level. Are we happy the way things are going? I didn’t think we would be second in the standings now, but we could take it,” Shedden says, and laughs.
“The important thing has been player evaluation, and learning the opposition. Russia has not changed its team much, but Sweden and Finland have rotated more. Do I want to win? Of course, but this season is all about Canada,” he adds.
So yes, the rest of the year is one big build-up towards the World Championships in Quebec and Halifax. “Canada is going to put on a show. I would be shocked if they didn’t. I know the cities, and I even played with the Quebec Nordiques. It’s going to be interesting, but hockey is hockey, I’m not sure if my being Canadian is an advantage, except that I know how to play in a small rink. That said, I know how things work there, and I know the culture. Maybe that’s an advantage,” he says.
Especially knowing the culture of winning.