Nolan Baumgartner may not have envisioned himself standing on Team Canada's bench in Beijing when NHL training camp started in September, but here he finds himself on the Canadian coaching staff as the team gets ready for the 2022 Olympics.
When the NHL announced on Dec. 21 that its players would not be participating in the Games, Olympic teams had to fall on a back-up plan for both players and coaches. This paved the way for Baumgartner, who was fired by the Vancouver Canucks on Dec. 5 alongside head coach Travis Green, general manager Jim Benning and assistant general manager John Weisbrod, to return to coaching and receive an "unbelievable" opportunity.
"It feels great. I love coaching and I love being around hockey, and when I got let go ... it's gone, just like that," Baumgartner said Wednesday during Halford & Brough in the Morning on Sportsnet 650.
"Couple tough days after that happened, but I got a call actually pretty quick from Shane Doan (asking) if I wanted to go over and be a coach for the Spengler Cup team that was going to be playing in Switzerland right after Christmas. I said yes to that, and then unfortunately that got cancelled. But just to know that I was on the radar was really nice to hear. And then we're going to get this opportunity to represent our country at the Olympic Games, which is unbelievable."
Baumgartner sometimes thinks this all may be just a dream.
"The Olympics are the Olympics," said Baumgartner, who will be one of head coach Claude Julien's assistants. "I pinch myself every day just to make sure it's still real because when I got that call, it didn't seem real. ... I think it's going to be an unbelievable experience and I'm so excited to go, as our whole team is."
The rosters for the Canadian Olympic Team have not yet finalized, but Baumgartner believes in the pool of players which features some familiar names to NHL fans.
"We have access to the guys in Europe, the Russian league, the Swiss league, the Swedish league, and Major Junior players possibly, and then some American Hockey League players who are just on American Hockey League deals," said Baumgartner. "Once the roster comes out, there's a lot of recognizable names, people will know who they are, they've played over here in North America before, so guys that have NHL experience. ... It's a good roster, we believe in it."
The Canucks saga
After a 8-15-2 start to the season, including dropping 10 of 13 games leading up to Dec. 5, Baumgartner, Green and Benning were let go by the Canucks. The former NHLer believes there were many factors that went into the decision, but Green losing the dressing room was not one of them.
"There's probably a lot of perception that Travis (Green) had lost the room and that's why we got let go. I can tell you right now, that's not the case," said Baumgartner. "We didn't lose the room at all. We just didn't perform right out of the gate, some guys weren't going, our top players weren't scoring goals, and I'm not laying it on them. I think if you talk to any coach in the league, when your top players aren't your top players, you're not going to win games. I feel that was a little bit of the case."
Baumgartner hopes for nothing but the best for his former team.
"I have nothing but great things to say about the organization," said Baumgartner. "I hope they go on to do great things, I don't wish them ill at all. I hope they can come out of this, I hope they can get into the playoffs."
Having coached alongside Green since the 2013-14 season during their time with the Canucks and AHL affiliate Utica, Green and Baumgartner have developed a relationship off the bench, and have talked since being let go.
"(Green)'s doing great. Him and I talk quite a bit, he's good," said Baumgartner. "The coaching life in the NHL, especially for a head coach, is tough and being in a Canadian market, in a Canadian city, it can wear on you quite a bit. There's a lot of questions to be answered from the media and from fans, and coaching hockey isn't just the only job you have when you are in one of these markets and it can takes its toll on you. He's good, he's relaxing, he's rejuvenating, and getting some time with his family."