It’s simple, and it’s cliché, but it’s true – success starts at the top.
With Canada’s National Women’s Team, that means the head coach and general manager tandem of Laura Schuler and Melody Davidson, who have both left their
marks on Canadian women’s hockey.
Davidson is one of the most influential women in the game, having won two IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medals and two Olympic Winter Games gold
medals as a head coach before transitioning into a management role, where she added a third Olympic gold in 2014.
Schuler, meanwhile, was a three-time world champion as a player with Team Canada in the 1990s before stepping behind the bench, adding a gold medal as head
coach of Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team at the 2014 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship.
So between the two, there isn’t much they haven’t seen, done, or dealt with.
But that hasn’t stopped Davidson from assembling a coaching staff for the 2015-16 season built to support Schuler, one that draws upon years of experience
at different levels of the game.
“I think we’ve tried to look at different pieces,” Davidson says, “and we had a number of options, but this [staff] molded it together in terms of their
experience and what they bring to the table, be it [technical and tactical knowledge], experience, or people skills, and they’re a nice fit to complement
Assistant coaches Doug Derraugh, Howie Draper, and Dwayne Gylywoychuk bring more than 40 years of coaching experience in CIS, the NCAA, and the Western
Hockey League, and combine with goaltending consultant Brad Kirkwood to provide the backbone of the Team Canada staff.
And it’s not just experience the coaches bring, it’s success.
Derraugh has led Cornell University to three NCAA Frozen Four appearances during an 11-year run as head coach of the Big Red, Draper is the all-time
winningest coach in CIS women’s hockey, and has won seven national championships with the University of Alberta as the only head coach in Pandas history,
and Gylywoychuk has earned gold medals at every level of the Team Canada program after 10 years with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
“Each of us brings different strengths, and for me I need people around me that are really supportive, and want to be a part of my vision, and all of them
have 110 per cent buy in,” Schuler says. “It’s so nice to be able to work with people who just love the game, and are willing to work towards a common
Choosing a coaching staff can come with the same concerns as selecting the final roster; it’s all about fit, chemistry, knowing roles, and, as Schuler
said, buying in to a singular vision for the greater good.
On this edition of Team Canada, Schuler knows just what she’s getting out of each of her coaches.
On Derraugh: “He is a tremendous leader, he’s a great motivator, knows the game so well, and I think he just compliments our staff. Right now we have him
scouting our opponents, and he’s so good at breaking down systems and presenting that to us so we can do what we need to do to be our best.”
On Draper: “Howie is great from a technical standpoint. He can really identify details and the little things, especially with our defencemen, so he’s a
real asset. He’s always picking little adjustments we can make, and really contributes that way.”
On Gylywoychuk: “He adds such a calming presence. I’m pretty high-strung and hyper, and he’s always that guy that is laid back and relaxed, and really sees
the big picture well, and helps me to identify things that are really important in the overall scheme of things. He stays so positive on the bench and
always knows how to get the best out of all the girls.”
On Kirkwood: “He’s the guy that makes us laugh. He’s tremendous with our goalies and really brings out the best in them. Again, he’s got that calming
presence, but knows how to make them work hard, and he gets out of them exactly what he needs to get out of them without yelling at them.”
So now that Schuler has outlined their strengths as individuals, what makes this coaching staff successful as a group? The reasoning is fairly
straightforward, according to Davidson – it’s one team, one staff, with one goal.
“There are no egos,” she says. “They’re balanced, the assistant coaches are the assistant coaches, they’re willing to do anything to help this team
succeed, and help Coach Schuler in her planning, whatever it takes.
“I think that’s a huge part; there’s nobody pushing the other way, everyone is pulling together.”