In a fairly stunning turn of events, Hockey Canada relieved Dan Church of his job on December 17th. They claim he resigned for personal reasons. But this article makes it seem like it was a hockey decision. That makes zero sense. Church wasn’t a tactical genius. I didn’t love some of his line choices, for instance, but I am not convinced Hockey Canada would have noticed either way. HC is guided by results. Yet they are acting like Canada’s main international rival is midget boys’ teams. Aside from its most recent tilt, Canada has had a run of success against the U.S., still the only other team that matters in the big picture, that has American fans cursing at their computer screens. Katey Stone has had a much rougher year than Church. You don’t see me calling for her job. Why? BECAUSE IT’S FEWER THAN TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE OLYMPICS. It is vital to maintain stability this close to the most important tournament in the sport . You can’t take your players completely by surprise and introduce a new coach with a new system now. You especially don’t claim to value the women’s game then destabilize your program on a whim, followed by hiring someone who has zero high-level women’s hockey experience.
This handling of an allegedly important national asset reminds me of nothing so much as the debacle surrounding the U.S. Women’s soccer team at the turn of the last decade. First, the federation allowed April Heinrichs to stay at the helm when it was obvious that she was in over her head and many players strongly disliked her (although to be fair, Wambach credits her with the kick in the ass that saved her career). Then it abruptly chose a guy who preferred the same ineffective playing style but by virtue of his chromosomes obviously had more natural authority and could garner player respect. That sexist decision resulted in the eleventh-hour substitution of Brianna Scurry for Hope Solo that cost us a World Cup final berth. It also split the Stepford Wives-like presumed unity of the national team into warring camps. There have been both positive and negative ramifications of that illusion-ending moment. But from an immediate soccer standpoint it was a disaster. The team was forced to completely rebuild and has continued its World Cup drought.
In that situation, the U.S. was choosing the wrong players and playing the wrong style, as well as deeply dysfunctional internally and wedded to pretending everything was perfect. Canadian women’s hockey has not fallen even close to that far. It is still fielding a very strong group of players and coming off a successful season with a few minor bumps. That’s why panicking at this stage is nonsensical. The similarity is an administrative body that is flailing rather than taking its role seriously.