The Washington Wild U19 and U14 teams’ coaches met several of the Canadian Women's National Ice Hockey staff in Kamloops, B.C. on their day off during the Four Nations Cup in November, 2014. Team Canada’s staff included assistant coaches Dwayne Gylywoychuk and Tim Bothwell, and Hockey Canada’s general manager of national women’s team programs, Melody Davidson, all of whom were kind enough to spend an hour talking to the Washington Wild coaches and answering their questions. Read on to see what they had to say!
Q: How do you prepare the team for four games in four days?
A: [Tim & Dwayne] We started in Calgary in September with a camp of 60 players ages 19 – 26. Players were divided into three teams which play against each other. There is a lot of technical and tactical discussion in a very short time frame because the girls are still with their club teams. We tackle one day at a time and play exhibition games against midget boys’ teams as we pare down the roster.
Q. What is the difference between working with a team for a full season vs. a short term team like this one?
A: [Dwayne] You must be organized. You have to stick to your plan with respect to practices, team building and gelling as a group. We have video clips prepared before every practice so that we maximize our time.
Q: How do you accomplish team building?
A: [Tim & Dwayne] We start by identifying a leadership group of not just captains and assistant captains but team elders (veterans). We create mentorships and encourage the leadership group be very welcoming. Sometimes, we have to remind the older players that they were young once, too! We perform introductions and then play simple games to bring people out of their comfort zone just a little. All players meet with the coaches 1 on 1 for about 15 – 20 minutes each to start the player-coach relationships. We create a rooming list and plan the dressing room set up so that the younger, nervous players are with veterans so that they can talk and get comfortable. The veterans show the new players the routines, help them read the schedules, and introduce them to the Hockey Canada “way”. A disciplined approach is taken immediately and the expectations are set. For example, there are very stringent demands regarding food and off ice training. Some players won’t comply, which is too bad; even if they are a good player, they won’t make the team.
Q: Team Canada is 2-0 at this point in the tournament and you have no game today. How does the team approach the day off?
A: [Tim & Dwayne] All of the girls are trying to make the world championships in March and also the 2018 Olympics in Korea. They ask themselves “what can I find to improve on?” We remind them to work one day at a time to improve each day as an individual as well as a team. We remind them to respect the opponent and respect the game. We want to be the hardest working team out there.
Q: What do you say in your pre-game talks?
A: [Tim & Dwayne] We try to give a focused talk that is no longer than 15 minutes that does not overload the players. We concentrate on a small list of key points. For example, the US has a very strong power play, so the power play could be a make or break event. The D coach might stress to players to focus on the first pass and make a good decision and execute well to set up for a good transition. Possession is often more important than pressing forward. We emphasize communication in the D zone. We might have specific goals for the individual players or for the team. We stress good habits on the ice, like shooting in stride, shooting to score, and making full stops. Of course, if you do these things well in practice, you will do them well in the game.
Q: College hockey is the ultimate goal for female players in the US and there is really nothing available after that. What is the next step for female hockey in Canada?
A: [Tim] The CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) has been a small league in Canada for the last few years, but professional female hockey is still an infant globally. It is player built and not really part of Hockey Canada. The league name may need to change, however, because the league includes a team from Boston, and Boston does not want necessarily to support something that looks like exclusively Canadian hockey. There are a lot of great players in the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) and NCAA—why not have them keep playing? Players would need jobs or internship programs, and senior men did this in the ‘40s and ‘50s for a long time. This model may be a way forward to keep good players playing for another 3 – 5 years. The women’s game may be marketable for the beauty of the game; there is so much skill and flow. There is a lot of support for women’s hockey from individuals in the NHL such as Sidney Crosby’s mom, and Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames. The NHL could help financially and not really even notice. Cassie Campbell [two-time Olympic Team Canada captain] pointed out that if each NHL player could be convinced to donate $1K a year each year, it would cover the entire budget for a women’s league’s coaches, logistics, etc. Even if the players’ money went exclusively to their home country, North America would still be able to generate half a million dollars.
Q: How do you feel about girls playing boys’ hockey vs. girls’ hockey?
A: [Melody, Tim & Dwayne] For each player it is a personal choice. No matter what you do, don’t burn bridges. At peewee, boys’ may be the only available option. Boys may be bigger and stronger, but their game is much more dump and chase and less about possession. Eventually, you have to play university hockey, so you need to know how to play female hockey. Also, a big part of belonging to the team occurs in the locker room, because at peewee and bantam ages, it becomes about socialization. It’s very hard to do that in a separate dressing room. Socially, there is a big difference between male and female hockey. Someone once summed it up as: males need to win to have fun, but females need to have fun to win. Melody Davidson said, “I will often get a dad who comes in who says ‘my daughter is just like a guy’. I shake my head and say, ‘Oh no, she’s not’. I recommend two great books out there called “Growing a Girl” (by Dr. Barbara Mackoff) and “The Female Brain” (by Dr. Louann Brizendine)."