CALGARY - Ryan Walter has never coached a women's hockey team before. The former NHL player is starting at the top.
Walter was named head coach of the Canadian women's hockey team Tuesday for the 4 Nations Cup in November.
The annual tournament, featuring Canada, the U.S., Finland and Sweden, will be held Nov. 9-13 in St. John's and Clarenville, N.L.
Walter was an assistant coach of the Vancouver Canucks the last two seasons before he was released in August.
The 52-year-old from New Westminster, B.C. is a surprising choice for the women's team, given his lack of experience coaching internationally and female teams.
But he brings NHL clout to a program that has produced three straight Olympic gold medals and wants to remain No. 1 in the world.
“For me, this is just another real cool opportunity to work with basically the best in the world,” Walter said Tuesday in Calgary. “There's an NHL element I want to try to bring to this program. I think the game is at such a high level that we can do that. It's just like coaching high-calibre players. It doesn't matter if you are men or women.”
“There's great ability in this program. There's nothing I couldn't do at the NHL level that we won't do here, from power play to the way we attack the net.”
Melody Davidson coached the Canadian women five of the last six years, through two Olympic Games. She's still with the women's program as a head scout.
Walter played for Canada several times at the world championships, but this marks his first time coaching a Canadian team. He played 1,003 NHL games with Washington, Montreal and Vancouver and had 646 points over 15 seasons in the NHL.
“I know him because as a really young Montreal Canadiens hockey fan I watched him play,” forward Caroline
Ouellette said. “I loved his leadership and passion for the game of hockey.
“We were waiting to see who was going to be our coach. I think Ryan is going to bring a lot to our game and
he brings a lot of credibility with his background in the NHL.”
Hockey Canada is taking advantage of the time afforded the organization in the first of a four-year quadrennial towards the 2014 Olympics to expand its pool of coaches for the women's team.
The organization will wait until after the 4 Nations before naming the head coach for the 2011 World Women’s Championship in Switzerland.
“We wanted to look at bringing in a bit of a fresh perspective on things,” said Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's vice president of national teams. “It's always good to have a new set of eyes and a new voice in the room.
“There's an opportunity there to maybe keep Ryan for the world championship or to bring in somebody else who may or may not be part of our pool.
“Ryan works really well with people and I think he can bring some added leadership and teaching to the players and to the staff. We think based on Year 1 of the four-year cycle, he's an ideal candidate.”
Walter's first job will be to choose a team for the 4 Nations from the 66 players at an evaluation camp starting Wednesday in Calgary. The women's team doesn't train together full time in years between Olympic Games, but players are periodically invited to training camps.
Players from the Olympic championship team will attend this week's camp, minus defenders Colleen Sostorics, Becky Kellar and Carla MacLeod and forward Gina Kingsbury. Those four players announced their retirement from the national team last week.Walter is the third male to coach the Canadian women's team after Peter Smith in 2007-08 and Les Lawson in 1994.
Ouellette says it doesn't matter to her whether it's a male or female coaching the team, but says Walter will have to learn how to relate to female athletes.
“Women often have to be explained to why we do things a certain way,” Ouellette explained. ``Men, you tell them to do something, and they're just going to go out there and do it and trust in the process. We have to learn to trust and can easily lose it.
“It's going to be an adjustment for him. He's never coached women. I think we have a great group of girls who are welcoming and eager to learn from him. I think it's going to be a good match.”
Walter was drafted second overall by the Washington Capitals in 1978. He was also a TSN colour commentator from 19 and worked on Canucks broadcasts from 19.
Walter will be joined by assistant coaches Laura Schuler and Stephanie White. Schuler is an assistant coach with the University of Minnesota-Duluth and White is head coach of the Ryerson University Rams.