The NHL will take a break in February for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but not Dallas Stars Head Coach Lindy Ruff. He’ll be making the long trek to Russia to serve as an associate coach for Team Canada. It’s the same job he held in 2010, when Canada won the gold medal at the Vancouver games.
“It’s really exciting, especially coming on the heels of winning in 2010,” said Ruff, who was named to Canada’s Olympic hockey team coaching staff on Monday. “I look at it as a great chance. You’re around some great coaches and you share a lot of great ideas.”
Detroit’s Mike Babcock returns as head coach. St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock and Boston’s Claude Julien join Ruff as associate coaches.
Ruff said with that level of coaching talent and experience, there can be interesting and sometimes intense discussions about strategy. That was the case in 2010 when the staff consisted of Babcock, Ruff, Hitchcock and Jacques Lemaire.
“We had great debates, some good arguments and we had some real good laughs when we went through this is how we want to play. There are some great ideas that come out of sitting with three or four guys, going through a camp and then living with the guys for two weeks,” Ruff said. “I learned a lot from all three of the guys I was involved with in different respects. If you can take a piece here from one part of the game and piece here from another part and add that to your game, it makes you a better coach. You can always get better.”
Canada will take 25 players to Sochi. It’s expected to be 14 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goaltenders. Some of the decisions won’t be easy for Canada’s management staff, but it is guaranteed to be an impressive roster. Ruff said being around that level of talent is one of the best parts of the job.
“It gives you a really good handle on what’s out there around the league, the marquee players on every team and what makes them so effective,” Ruff said. “You get to practice with them, watch them in game situations and you get to watch players under the most amount of pressure they can be put in.”
The 2010 gold medal game between Canada and the USA was high pressure. The U.S. rallied from a 2-0 deficit, tying the game on a Zach Parise goal with 24.4 seconds left in regulation. Sidney Crosby then won the game for Canada, scoring 7:40 into overtime.
“Just how tight it was, the pressure involved. One shot wins the game and that’s how it turns out,” said Ruff. “It’s fun to watch players under those types of circumstances.”
Ruff said the bulk of the coaching staff’s work will be done prior to the NHL season. That will allow the coaches to concentrate on their NHL teams. Some of the work left will have to do with watching players as Canada tries to nail down the final roster.
“We’ll have an occasional conference call and we’ll have other calls to see how players are doing,” Ruff said. “If you are coaching in the West, we’re asking about players that may be sitting on the cusp of that roster. If somebody just played this guy, we’ll want to know how he played and do you think he can be a piece we can use. Most of our work is done before we get into the season, so the four coaches that are involved can just concentrate on the job at hand. The only job left is evaluating what players you think can be part of it.”
Hockey Canada announced its roster for an Olympic orientation camp on Monday. Among the notable players not invited was Stars forward Jamie Benn. Ruff said Benn can use not getting an invitation as motivation at the beginning of next season to put himself in contention for a spot on Canada’s roster.
“His name was definitely in all the talks,” Ruff said. “You can take that and let it motivate yourself. You can say I am going to use these three months and put myself on the map, and make them make a hard decision. The ball is in Jamie’s court. He’s going to have to outplay some players that are maybe ahead of him and use that as a tool to motivate himself. I’d like to put him in the best position possible to do that.”
Several countries have released Olympic camp invitations and preliminary rosters. Two Dallas Stars are under consideration as of right now.
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar was named to Russia’s preliminary Olympic roster on Monday. Russia named 35 Olympic hopefuls that will gather in Sochi next month.
Finland named a list of candidates for its Olympic hockey team last month, and goaltender Kari Lehtonen was among the eight netminders under consideration.