“I’m a far better coach than I was a player”

We sit down with Dan Church, who is set to lead Canada’s national women’s hockey team in the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship

Victoria Alarcon

Features & Opinions Editor

For Dan Church, it all started with a simple phone call. On a Monday afternoon, as he was just about to head out for practice with the York Lions’ women’s hockey team, he stopped to pick up the phone. Brad Pascall, vice-president of Hockey Canada was on the other line to give Church the big news: he would be the next head coach of Canada’s national women’s hockey team.

“It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and a dream of mine within the coaching ranks. It’s a huge honour to do it,” says Church, remembering that day three weeks ago. The call never came as a surprise for Church, as he has been involved with Hockey Canada for a long time now.

In 2011, he was part of the coaching staff that coached the Canadian women’s hockey team in the 12 Nations Cup and Four Nations Cup. He was also the assistant coach in last year’s world championship in Switzerland where Canada lost to the US in overtime.

Since the beginning, Church’s life has always revolved around hockey. Growing up, he played as a defenceman for the University of Toronto. After he tore his quadriceps, he decided to pursue a coaching career instead. Eventually, after a couple of years coaching boy’s hockey at the novice recreational level, his first introduction to women’s hockey came when he was offered the position to coach the defence of the Newtonbrook Panthers (now known as the Brampton Thunder).

“I was a good hockey player but I wasn’t a great hockey player and that kind of opened the window for coaching,” says Church. “I’m a far better coach than I was a player.”

It only went up from there when he finally got a chance to be assistant coach of the University of Toronto’s women’s hockey program. After seven years of experience, he moved on to become the head coach of the York Lions.

What intrigued Church about women’s hockey initially was the level of play and the talent of female hockey players.

“I really appreciated the players, and the purity of the game,” he says. “It’s not so much about the shenanigans in women’s hockey, but about playing the game in a very skilled and tactical way.”

Now after several years of getting familiar with different women’s hockey teams, Church will be put in the smouldering hot seat, being given one of any coach’s biggest challenges: winning gold for Canada.

So far, Canada’s national women’s hockey team has come up short in the last three championships, losing to the US and earning silver.

This year Church hopes to change Canada’s losing streak and finally come home with gold, but it is no easy task. With about five weeks until the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship begins, Church along with his assistant coaches, Danielle Goyette and Doug Derraugh will have to select Canada’s female hockey players and prepare them for some tough competitors.

So far, Hockey Canada’s head scout, Melody Davidson, has picked 29 players, which will have to be whittled down to 23 players by the end of March. Veteran players such as Jayna Hefford, Gillian Apps, and Tessa Bonhomme, all of whom played at last year’s world championship, are part of the selection camp.

One of the most notable players in the country, Haley Wickenheiser, will also be part of the selection camp. Wickenheiser was team captain at last year’s world championship and also the captain who led Canada’s Olympic team in Vancouver to win gold.

“I think she’s a great role model for young athletes,” says Church. “She’s a four-time Olympian in Canada for hockey. She’s one of the most focused and competitive people you can be around, but she’s got a great heart. She’s very intense and she has a professional approach to everything.”

The factors that Church will be looking at when picking the final roster are how the players have played over the course of the season with their club teams, how the player can help the team to win gold and which player is playing at their best.

Once the team has been selected, Canada will travel to Burlington, Vermont, where they  will face off against their American Rivals. Despite the location and the rushed timing, Church has already set high expectations for the team-     including winning gold.

And though there is pressure from the media, Hockey Canada, and the country, Church already has this championship planned out: “[It will be about] bringing the tremendous skill on our team and partnering that with being tough, and a physical style of play. That’s what Canadian hockey is about and that’s what’s going to make us successful over everyone in the world, including the United States.”

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