He has been the coach of the Canadian women's Olympic hockey team for fewer than two months, but on Wednesday, Kevin Dineen's team made a significant breakthrough. In a game that started slowly but built to a fabulous finish, the Canadian women defeated the only opponent that really matters here, Team USA, 3-2 to complete the round-robin portion of the event with a perfect 3-0 record.
They'll all but certainly have to beat the U.S. again to defend the gold medal they won in 2010, but the victory was important on every level – from the psychological to the practical. It snapped a four-game losing streak to the U.S. and gave Dineen his first win against the Americans. When Canada switched coaches back in December, Dineen replacing Dan Church, it was done primarily for this reason – to get a leg up on Team USA.
For his part, Dineen took the job in part to complete "some unfinished Olympic business" stemming back to 1984, when he played for the Canadian men's team that finished fourth in the Sarajevo Olympics, a team coached by Dave King.
"Kevin's intensity was the same at the end of his career as it was at the start," said King, who also had Dineen play for him on the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets as his career was winding down. "He had this drive and competitive edge. In practice or a game, it didn't matter. If he was in a one-on-one confrontation, Kevin had to win it – and he'd find a way, usually with his rambunctiousness."
When Dineen's name surfaced as coach of the women's team, King said, "it caught my attention, because he knows the game, so technically he'll be a real strong coach, but he'll also bring an edge to their game. I'm sure other coaches could do it – but he really does it well. This is natural to Kevin. It's his way. It's in his genetics."
Veteran forward Hayley Wickenheiser feels Dineen's influence. "We're just playing a little bit more free. … The skill and ability that is on our team is starting to come out," she said. "I think it's a combination of time together, believing in one another and him coming in and allowing it to happen."
Only two years ago, Dineen guided the Florida Panthers to their first playoff spot in a decade.
But after his team got off to a slow start this season, Dineen was fired. At loose ends, he contacted Hockey Canada in November to volunteer to coach the 2014 men's world championship team. Instead, Hockey Canada offered Dineen the women's team job, and so he embarked on a crash course in all things relating to women's hockey. He needed to learn the players, the systems, the opponents and everything else involved in getting a struggling team back on track.
It took him some time – training camps in Calgary and then Austria prior to arriving here – before everything started to feel familiar.
"I don't just stick a toe in, that's not the way I do things," Dineen said. "I jumped right in immediately. That's something that was important for the players for me to do. I feel like I missed a lot – there was a lot of work done before I arrived."
The team had "a good couple months but they weren't always fun or successful." Now at the Olympics, "the lights are a little brighter, the stage is a little bigger – it's exciting."
According to defenceman Laura Fortino, Dineen's bench-coaching experience has been a revelation. "He's done a great job of keeping us poised in any situation," she said. "His in-game decision making is probably the biggest thing he's done differently since he took over. He's always making changes on the fly, adjusting, making sure we're reacting to the right things."
Dineen came by that experience honestly. In all, he played 1,188 games in 19 NHL seasons for five different teams after the Hartford Whalers selected him in the third round of the 1982 entry draft. His father, Bill, was a career coach – and coached Kevin for a little more than a year with the Philadelphia Flyers – but it wasn't until he was nearing the end of his own playing career that Dineen thought he might go down the same path.
Calgary Flames general manager Brian Burke, then with the Anaheim Ducks, gave him his first job with the team's minor-league affiliate in Portland, Me., and after a six-year apprenticeship, Dineen landed in Florida.
As for coaching women, his only previous experience came with a Maine select team that included his daughter Hannah, who now attends Colby College. It means three generations of Dineens have now led that vagabond hockey existence.
"People ask you where you're from and that's a hard question to answer," Dineen said. "You meet somebody that talks about Seattle and you can say, 'Oh yeah, I grew up on Queen Anne Hill' – or somebody from B.C. and you'd say, 'I spent every summer in Penticton for 20 some years.' Or they'd ask, where'd you go to school? Well, I went to three different high schools, but I was at St. Mike's in Toronto for two years. The one that trips everybody up is 'born in Quebec City' because my dad was a player there."
Dineen found that always being on the move had its advantages and disadvantages. "My daughter wrote an essay in ninth grade called Without A Past – which was really interesting for me. We had just moved to Maine and it struck home how sometimes you just pop from place to place. … You get a little envious of somebody who still has the same friends they had as a kid, but you also have a little diversity to you. Maybe some kids are envious of you because you get to see places and experience different things."
Including, right now, the Winter Games – and one step closer to an Olympic gold medal.
With a report from Shawna Richer
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