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Canada gets last-minute replacement

CALGARY — A big NHL name with no previous experience coaching international hockey has stepped behind the bench of Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team.

Kevin Dineen was introduced Tuesday as the replacement for Dan Church, who abruptly resigned last week.

Dineen was fired last month by the NHL’s Florida Panthers. He’s represented Canada as a player six times, but the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will be the first time he’s coached a Canadian team.

Dineen called his hiring “hopping on a moving train” as the Sochi opening ceremonies are less than two months away. Two forwards and a defenceman must be released before the 21-player Olympic roster is named.

Dineen was born in Quebec City, but grew up in Toronto. The 50-year-old played in 1,188 NHL regular-season games, scoring 355 goals and adding 405 assists for the Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators.

He also played for the Canadian team that finished fourth at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

“That stuck with me a long time, not to come out of there with a medal,” Dineen said. “I may have a little unfinished business from my Olympic experience.”

Dineen was in his third season coaching the Panthers when he was dismissed Nov. 8. Looking for hockey work, Dineen said he contacted Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson early last week about the possibility of coaching at the men’s world championship in April.

Church returned home to Toronto last Thursday without addressing the players. Hockey Canada said he left for “personal reasons.” Church’s explanation before boarding the plane was he felt there was a lack of confidence in his ability to coach Canada to Olympic gold.

The women lost 5-1 that evening to the United States with assistants Danielle Goyette and Lisa Haley co-coaching. The women went 1-1 in weekend games against male midget triple-A teams.

Dineen flew to Toronto on Sunday to meet with Nicholson, chief operating officer Scott Smith and women’s team scout and general manager Melody Davidson.

“I was not expecting this opportunity,” Dineen said. “This has been a whirlwind few days but when this opportunity presented itself I immediately jumped at it.

“You end up getting fired and you go through a range of emotions. Sometimes things happen for a reason. I think this may be my reason.”

Dineen ran his first practice with the women after he was introduced to the media at a news conference.

The Canadian women have been training full time in Calgary since August and have already played more than 30 games.

The players were informed who their new coach would be just a few minutes before the news conference. They taped their names to the front of their helmets for practice so Dineen would know who they were.

“It was typical hockey school, trying to help him out a bit,” goaltender Charline Labonte said.

“Right now, moving forward I think if we have the opportunity it’s nice to have someone who played the game. No, he doesn’t know much about women’s hockey. He seems interested and I know he’s watched a lot of tapes. I know he’ll do anything to be ready and to learn about our game.”

Canada and the U.S. will clash three times over the next two weeks in their final exhibition games prior to the Olympics, starting with Friday’s matchup in Grand Forks, N.D.

Canada won women’s Olympic hockey gold in 2002, 2006 and 2010, but has lost four of the last five world championship finals to the U.S.

Hockey Canada’s plan was to announce the Olympic roster prior to their holiday break next week, but the timetable is murkier with the coaching change.

Five-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser says Dineen will have to adjust to dealing with female athletes, but she didn’t feel his lack of international coaching experience would hinder his ability to coach the Canadian women.

“He’s played for a long time and coached in the NHL and has a good track record of coaching experience and also playing internationally, so I’m not too concerned about that,” Canada’s all-time leading scorer said.

“It’s different than the men’s game, how you handle players, the way you approach team concepts and put the team together. Aside from that, the game on the ice, I don’t think it’s too complicated to what goes on the men’s side.

“Men and women are different in the way they function and that’s probably going to be the biggest adjustment for him.”

 
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