#GlobalNews: “Team Canada coach Willie Desjardins leaves Olympics with a medal to remember”


Willie Desjardins will go home with the satisfaction of a medal-winning performance, if not kudos.

Coaching Team Canada is a thankless job. Canadians expect their hockey teams to win and on the international stage that’s not easy, even when you have a $150-million roster that includes Sidney Crosby, Carey Price and Drew Doughty.

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Desjardins, whose roster was more ragtag than ragtop, acknowledged the challenge of coaching Canada after Saturday’s wild 6-4 win over the Czech Republic in the Olympic bronze-medal game.

“There is pressure and I knew that when I took the job,” said the former Vancouver Canucks coach. “And it was funny, the day I really felt it was when we selected the team. That day I thought ‘OK, you better not make a mistake.’”

“Because Canada is a proud nation and they’re proud of their hockey and they expect a lot from us. … But the only thing you can do is your best and I thought our guys played their best the whole tournament. We beat some tough teams.”

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Canada defeated the Swedes in its final tune-up before the Olympics and dispatched Switzerland, Finland and the Czech Republic en route to the medal podium.

Without NHLers, Desjardins’ toolbox was filled with players whom others had given up on – an experience he knows himself. Just being here for them was a win.

Leaving with a medal adds to the experience, even if it could have been a shinier memento.

Desjardins’ mantra that the Canadians played hard each night rubbed some the wrong way, especially after the 4-0 win over South Korea when the team needed two third-period goals to put away the fledgling home side.

The 61-year-old from Climax, Sask., is not blessed with the force of personality of a Mike Babcock or the easy comebacks of a Paul Maurice. Desjardins’ body language was placed under the microscope here.

“A little unsure,” was one columnist’s verdict. “A man overwhelmed by the strain,” was another.

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The coach of an Olympic medal-winning team, Desjardins can now counter.

While Desjardins did not fill reporters’ notebooks, he seems to have got his message across to his players.

Smart, patient and able to motivate, was one player’s assessment of his coach.

And thanks to Desjardins and assistant coaches Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft, Canada made adjustments on the fly, handling the Finnish neutral zone trap far better after some first-period instructions, for example.

Still, the team lacked consistency, perhaps unsurprising because of its lack of time together. Canada’s first practice as a full team happened in South Korea, with some players arriving late to the pre-tournament camp in Riga, Latvia.

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Veteran defenceman Chris Lee was the only returning veteran from Canada’s NHL-stocked team at the 2017 world championships. The Germans had 14 returnees while the Czechs had nine.

For a team whose defence’s ability to move the puck came highly touted, the Canadians occasionally tied themselves up in knots trying to get out of their own zone. And some of its forwards were wildly hot and cold, perhaps explaining why they are no longer in the NHL.

The Canadians, who gave up just three goals in three games in the preliminary round, had hoped to grind their way to the gold-medal game in a tournament where – outside of the Russian entry – parity was the key word.

At times, they showed that grit.

Against Finland in the quarter-final, they scored 55 seconds into the third period on a Maxim Noreau blast from the point. In the remaining minutes, they collectively sacrificed their bodies to maintain that lead.

But they dropped the ball against Germany, digging themselves a hole after two substandard periods that they could not get out of in a 4-3 loss despite outshooting the Germans 15-1 over the final 20 minutes.

This time Desjardins said it was the Germans who also played hard.

“They deserved what they got,” he said.

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His post-game comments lasted just under two minutes. Many of his players didn’t bother to talk.

“It’s a tough loss. It’s a game that you can win. And you can’t afford to lose games like that,” Desjardins said.

The players went through a crash motivation course in the less-than-24 hours that followed. And they showed up against the Czechs.

Captain Chris Kelly stepped up with two goals. Derek Roy danced around Czech defenders. Mat Robinson, a 31-year-old defender yet to play in the NHL, continued to showcase his skills.

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Afterwards Desjardins took time to thank the Czechs, the Games’ Korean hosts and his players and their families.

“The guys wanted a medal,” he said. “They didn’t come over here just to march in the opening ceremonies. They wanted to do something special.”

They got it.

Wojtek Wolski, a former junior star who has battled depression and a broken neck during his career, arrived at the post-game mixed zone clutching a Canadian flag and with his voice breaking.

“This is a moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said the Toronto native, who now plies his trade in Russia’s KHL. “I think any of the hard times, it just seems like it was all worth it now. Even to get a bronze medal, not the gold which we wanted.

“This is something that I’ll show my kids, I’ll talk about and I hope that they’ll be proud.”

Note: “Previously Published on: 25 February 2018 | 8:45 pm, as ‘Team Canada coach Willie Desjardins leaves Olympics with a medal to remember’ on GLOBALNEWS CANADA. Here is a source link for the Article’s Image(s) and Content”.

Global News Canada

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