22 Days to Sochi: Dan Church opens up

Church looks on as Team Canada plays in the Four Nations Cup back in November 2013. AP Photo/Mike Groll

Little more than a month ago, Hockey Canada dropped a bombshell: The head coach of the women’s team was resigning due to “personal reasons.” It was 57 days before the opening ceremony in Sochi.

After all this time, there are still questions as to why Dan Church left the women’s team. Asked if his players know the story behind his resignation, Church told Sportsnet, “I don’t believe they do.”

And not only that. “There are still parts of it that I don’t understand,” he says. “It became apparent to me that Hockey Canada didn’t have confidence in me. It’s not a good spot to be in as a coach, and so that’s when the decision became apparent to me that I was going to be resigning.”

Church won’t say why Hockey Canada lost confidence in him, or how he received that message, only that “it came out of left field.” He won’t say he was forced out, only that his resignation was “the only choice that I had in this situation.” It was a complete shock from the coach who guided the women to world championship gold in 2012 and a heartbreaking loss to the rival Americans last April.

Church left the team on Dec. 12 without addressing the players, which he said wasn’t his decision. “I would have liked to have been able to address them in person, but that wasn’t possible.” He emailed the team to wish them well, and has since heard from nearly every player. He’s also received hundreds of emails of support from other coaches.

Church, who is on leave until May from his post as head coach of the women’s York University varsity team, says despite the fact a month has passed since his resignation, it doesn’t sting any less.

“It’s devastating, to be honest,” he says. “I tweeted before the announcement that I was heartbroken. I don’t think that’s changed. Going to the Olympics is something that I targeted for over 10 years. I’ve dedicated all of my coaching life to this.”

Church says he won’t rule out coaching the national women’s team in the future.

“You leave the situation with a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth, because you want to carry it through,” he says. “I’d have to weigh it out a lot differently than when I accepted the job a couple years ago.”

The task of guiding Canada’s hockey women to a fourth straight Olympic gold now falls on the shoulders of recently appointed head coach, Kevin Dineen. Church says he’s never met Dineen, and while he praised the former NHL bench boss’s knowledge of the game, he wonders how quickly Dineen will be able to get to know the players.

“I always think it’s a bit interesting when they go the NHL route,” Church says. “I could go into the NHL and coach and I would know the players because I’m a fan of the game. I don’t know if the same can be said on the other side.

“For him, it’s a huge feeling-out process these past few weeks.”

Dineen, who was appointed on Dec. 17, now has 24 days until Canada opens the Olympics on Feb. 8 against Switzerland.

Church says he’ll “probably” watch the games on TV from his Toronto home, as a fan. “It’ll be difficult.”

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