ZURICH, Switzerland – Dave Tippett’s appreciation of international hockey is more than just sincere. It comes from the heart.
The two-time member of Canada’s Olympic team is an assistant coach on Canada’s entry at the 2009 IIHF World Championship, and he is loving every minute of his return to the international forum.
“Nothing beats representing your country,” says Tippett, the Dallas Stars’ head coach who is making his first appearance as a member of Canada’s coaching staff.
Tippett is unique in that he played for Canada first as an amateur in 1984 and then as a professional in 1992. It says something about the passion of playing for your country when you ask your NHL team for a release so you can compete at the Olympics, as Tippett did with Washington prior to the 1992 Games.
“I always get thrown the question, ‘What’s better?’” says Tippett. “The year I played as an amateur in 1984, we had the national team and we were together all year, a bunch of guys, and that was a great experience.”
Tippett was captain of the 1984 team that finished fourth at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. The roster also included future NHLers James Patrick, Kevin Dineen, Dave Gagner, Kirk Muller, Bruce Driver, Doug Lidster and Russ Courtnall, and that Olympic bond is something those Team Canada alumni will carry with them forever.
“You are just a young team travelling around the world and I have some great memories from that,” says Tippett. “The one bad memory was losing in the bronze medal game.”
Tippett turned pro with the Hartford Whalers in 1984-85, but got the Olympic fever again seven years later and found himself representing his country at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.
“I remember telling Kinger (Dave King), ‘If I have any chance to come back would you let me come back?’ And he did. It was a short-term thing. I just showed up a week before and played the tournament and went home and got a silver medal out of it.”
“The whole Olympic experience has been good for me. I loved ’84 because it was a year-long experience and I loved ’92 because we got a medal. That was something else.”
Tippett retired from the NHL in 1995 and immediately stepped behind the bench as a coach with Houston of the International Hockey League. He joined the Los Angeles Kings as an assistant coach in 1999 and in 2002 was named head coach of the Stars.
This season was the first since Tippett became the Stars head coach that the team did not make the playoffs. And when the call came from Hockey Canada to join the coaching staff, he didn’t have time to blink before he gave his answer.
“I was waiting, got that call and I could not wait to join up,” he says.
Tippett was asked about what fuels his passion for international hockey.
“Probably from playing,” he says. “I think I played 80 games internationally and it is just playing for your country and there is something special about playing for your country. It probably goes back to when you were a kid.
“The Olympics were always a dream of mine and that is why I played in 1984 and I remember I told Washington GM David Poile (prior to the ’92 Games), ‘Do not pay me. No matter what, I am going.’”
Given his experience of travelling the world representing his country, Tippett can draw from the past when he talks about the present. That said, he was asked to compare what it was like to be in Europe 25 years ago compared to being here today.
Tippet talked about how fans here create an environment that you would never find in an NHL arena.
Tippett and many of the Canadian players caught the game between Hungary and Slovakia and saw how fans sang and danced throughout the game and a couple even set off small orange flares.
It's something the Canadian team is looking forward to.
“All of our guys have commented already on how wonderful the atmosphere is, especially the guys that haven't been here before,” says Tippett. “I was sitting watching that game last night and we were just saying, ‘Can you imagine someone letting off a flare like that in Madison Square Garden or Staples Center?’
“There would be chaos. It's a different atmosphere. It's an energized atmosphere and it's not something we go through on a day to day basis. So it's good.”
And that’s one of the reasons why Tippett will never say no to Canada.