Tuesday, January 22, 2002
Women's program made wrong choice
Hiring female coach a big mistake
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
They could have fixed the problem with the national women's hockey team two summers ago by making one unpopular choice.
They could have hired a man as head coach of Team Canada.
Not just any man. But any of the bevy of male coaches in Canada with more background than Danielle Sauvageau had.
This isn't so much a male-female issue -- although it is certain to be construed that way -- as it is a matter of experience.
There are few female coaches in the country -- including Sauvageau -- who even would be considered candidates for anything as meaningful as a junior hockey appointment. So why, other than the fact she happens to be a female, should she be put in a position to coach at the highest possible level?
Did Silken Laumann have a female coach?
Does Catriona LeMay Doan?
Where is it written that female athletes must be coached by females? Shouldn't the most qualified coach have been hired?
Clare Drake has watched with interest as the female version of Team Canada has gone from best in the world to sloppy second in a matter of four years time. He has watched from a position of knowledge, having been employed previously as mentor coach for the Canadian women's program.
Drake clearly is uncomfortable in talking about the decline of the national women's team. When asked what has gone wrong with the team and the development of the players, Drake clears his throat, says nothing, hums a bit and hopes the question goes away.
He does all that before finally answering.
"I really feel uncomfortable about the question," Drake said, the former Olympic men's team coach and successful university coach. "I don't want to come off saying what I want to say. You know how it is. I think, though, they should have gone to a more experienced coach. You know what I'm saying?
"They went with female coaches. I guess they were trying to send a message regarding female hockey and I can understand where they're coming from. They want to show women can play. They want to show women can coach, also. And I'm sure they had some pressure to hire a woman.
"I'm sure they looked hard enough for the best possible coach. And I think if they're looking for a woman, they got the best possible coach."
But did they get the best coach?
And how much has coaching played a part in the juxtaposition of the Canadian and American teams in women's hockey?
Ben Smith is the Team USA women's coach. He has been head coach of that program for the better part of five years. The veteran U.S. collegiate coach took over the American team when it was clearly second best to Canada and reversed the trend to such an extent that almost no one expects the Americans to lose at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
You see, the medals in women's hockey are still all but predetermined. Canada will play the United States for the gold medal. There are no other contending countries of note.
Some athletes will have the achievement of their life in winning a silver medal in Salt Lake.
All the Canadian team has to do is show up and they get silver.
But at one time all they won was gold. Somehow our game became their game, our defeat became their victory.
"One of the real problems with women's hockey is the level of competition," Drake said. "If we weren't playing the U.S., we didn't have any real competition. Things got easy for the players. And they stayed with the same players. They weren't pushed much and some of them didn't push themselves.
"The U.S. team had the goal of beating Canada and they had to push real hard to get there. And they were pretty well guided. They do a lot of the little things now better than the Canadians do. You'd have to say Ben Smith has done an excellent job with that team."
The Canadian problem has stretched beyond the coaching situation.
With the recent scapegoating of high-scoring Nancy Drolet, who was cut from the team because somebody had to go, the team hardly is in the right state to be successful in Salt Lake.
This isn't Danielle Sauvageau's fault.
She shouldn't have been given the position in the first place.
2002 Games Women's Hockey Coverage