TORONTO — Perry Pearn is still coaching hockey, he’s just working on tweaking his approach.
The veteran NHL assistant coach is serving as the head coach of Canada’s national women’s team. While the 67-year-old native of Stettler, Alta., brings over 20 years of pro coaching experience to the job, it’s been in the men’s game.
He also has international coaching experience in men’s hockey, leading Canada’s juniors to world gold in 1993. Pearn, who last was a head coach with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers in 1994-95, admits he’s still learning the women’s game, but is buoyed knowing his players want to be coached.
“There’s no question about that,” Pearn said Thursday night following Canada’s 4-3 exhibition win over the U.S. at Scotiabank Arena. “They have open minds, they want to be better and work hard at being better.
“From a coaching (perspective) I don’t want to say it’s a coach’s dream but it’s a very rewarding job from the standpoint you know you’re important and appreciated. But I also think they need the push, for us to be better we have to push harder and they need somebody to push them.”
That’s because, Pearn said, even stars need to be pushed.
“At the NHL level, teams don’t win Stanley Cups until the best players are pushed,” he said. “There’s no better example of that than last year.
“(Washington Capitals star) Alexander Ovechkin bought into a different style of play for himself and that sold the whole team. All of a sudden they were good enough to win the Cup.”
Pearn joined the national women’s program as an assistant coach prior to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. There, the Canadians settled for silver following a 3-2 loss to the Americans.
Pearn assumed head-coaching duties in time for the ‘18 Four Nations Cup in November in Saskatoon. Once again the Canadians finished second following a 5-2 loss to the U.S.
The victory Thursday tied the best-of-three Rivalry Series 1-1. The deciding game is scheduled for Sunday in Detroit.
One lesson experience has taught Pearn is the importance of winning, especially for a head coach’s longevity.
“We’ve played three games against them with me at the helm and hadn’t won so you always want to be in the win column,” Pearn said. “I think in this job if you can’t beat the U.S. they might find somebody else to do it so you want to beat the U.S.”
National team forward Jamie Lee Rattray praised Pearn’s ability to talk to his players.
“He’s great at communicating and telling you what’s going on, where you stand and what needs to be done,” she said. “I think as a player it’s easy to take direction from someone like that who has all that experience.”
Veteran forward Marie-Philip Poulin said Pearn is a stickler for detail.
“He’s a detail-oriented guy and I think for us that’s important,” she said. “He tells us when things are going well and when things are going wrong.
“It’s good for us, it pushes us to be better as a team and individuals. We’re real lucky to have him behind the bench.”
The American squad finds itself in a somewhat similar situation as its head coach, Bob Corkum, played 13 seasons in the NHL.
“It definitely brings confidence when you know he’s been there, he’s played at the highest level and now he’s coaching at the highest level,” said forward Kendall Coyne Schofield. “It’s a fresh mindset, new systems and I think it’s easy to buy in.”
Teammate Brianna Decker agreed.
“That experience definitely helps, you can’t shy away from that,” she said. “As older players its awesome to have new faces behind the bench.
“You learn a lot and have that beginner mindset and are able to soak up as much as you can from everybody.”
Pearn is thankful to be with a team that values his experience.
“It (coaching national women’s team) is a neat experience first of all,” he said. “I think they find us old guys in the NHL not useful anymore so it’s nice to be useful.
“I think I bring some things like different ideas, a different perspective that can help. But I also think it’s a situation that will help me as well because I’m learning some things to.”