(Reuters) – Hockey Canada unveiled Plan B for the Pyeongchang Winter Games on Tuesday, naming Willie Desjardins as head coach and Sean Burke general manager for the men’s team after the NHL ended its Olympic participation.
NHL players, coaches and staff have spearheaded Canada’s Olympic efforts since the 1998 Nagano Games but with the league having this year announced it would not shut down for the Pyeongchang Games Hockey Canada was forced to come up with an alternative plan.
Desjardins, who spent three seasons as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks before being fired in April, will take over from Mike Babcock, the man behind the bench for Canada’s gold medal victories at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Burke, a former goaltender who played 18 seasons in the NHL and was twice an Olympian, has international experience with Canada’s national team that includes a silver medal as assistant general manager at the 2017 world championship.
“The thing that impressed me most about Willie and his teams is how hard they play for him,” said Burke during the announcement at Hockey Canada headquarters in Calgary.
“I think that will be extremely important for this group.
“We are going to have to bring this team together quickly…I think Willie is the perfect guy to have them buy in.”
Burke and his staff, which includes double Olympic gold medal-winning goaltender Martin Brodeur, will begin player evaluations immediately as they cobble together a team made up mostly of minor league, college and European-based players.
Canada, the two-time defending gold medalists, will participate in five tournaments before next year’s Olympics.
That preparation begins quickly with two tournaments in Russia next month, the Sochi Hockey Open and another one in St. Petersburg, and it will conclude with the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland in December and January.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)