CALGARY -- The Canadian Hockey Association will not operate a full-time National Women's Hockey during the 1998-99 hockey season and as a result will not renew the full-time contracts of head coach Shannon Miller and assistant coach Daniele Sauvageau and the team's support staff, Bob Nicholson, the CHA's senior vice- president, announced Tuesday.
Nicholson said Miller, the first full-time head coach in the eight-year history of Canada's National Women's Team, will remain a key part of the National Team program, but precisely what her role will be has yet to be determined. Miller's contract expires at the end of April.
"We are very pleased with the job Shannon Miller has done in her seven-and-a-half years with the National Women's Team, and certainly over the five-month period of centralization leading to the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano," Nicholson said. "As an organization the CHA has decided not to operate a full-time women's team next year, and since Shannon Miller's role is that of head coach, we have chosen not to renew her contract.
"We certainly see Shannon Miller as a key part of the overall high-performance female program. We are presently working on an overall plan for our female team that we will bring forward to our board of directors at our Annual General Meeting in Quebec City in May. One element of that overall plan is how we will staff the team for the annual Women's World Hockey Championship. That will be determined by the end of May."
Apart from Miller and Sauvageau, the National Women's team full-time staff also included assistant coach Ray Bennett, equipment manager Todd Jackson and athletic therapist Carrie Smith. The contracts of all but Bennett have either expired or, as with Miller, expire at the end of April. Bennett has taken on new duties with the Canadian Hockey Association as the Manager of Coaching and the Initiation Program, a role that had been predetermined for him when he was hired in June 1997.
Nicholson said it has not been determined who will coach the National Women's Team at the 1999 Women's World Hockey Championship, the next major international competition on the female calendar. Canada won a silver medal behind the United States at the Nagano Winter Games in February and Canada has won all four of the Women's World Championship tournaments held to date.
"As we have for all four previous Women's World Championship tournaments, we will invite applications for the coaching staff of the National Women's Team. Shannon Miller is welcome to participate in that process if she so wishes.
"As for the coaching positions for the 2002 Winter Olympics, we will look at that and put a similar application process in place. When that process will be put in place is not clear at this time."
As for her immediate plans, Miller said she will hold discussions with both the Calgary Police Service and the Olympic Oval High Female High Performance Hockey Program in Calgary. Miller is currently on leave of absence from both organizations. Miller also has applied to be the head coach of the women's varsity hockey team at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Miller is involved with player evaluation reports and wrapping up other loose ends from the first-ever women's hockey tournament at the Winter Games to complete her contractual obligation.
Miller has fashioned a remarkable performance record in her seven-year involvement with the National Women's Team, first as an assistant coach and as head coach for the past three-and-a-half years.
Miller was an assistant coach with the gold medal-winning teams at the 19 Women's World Champion, and was head coach when Canada won the 1997 Women's World's. She also coached Canada to gold medals at the 19 Pacific Rim Championships. She led Canada to a gold medal at the 1996 3 Nations' Cup and a silver medal at the 1997 version of this event, which involves Finland and Team USA.
"I have really grown as a person and as a coach in my seven years with Team Canada," said Miller. "We have achieved success in many different areas and are very proud of what we have accomplished.
"I look forward to some down time in the near future to recharge, and to continuing my involvement with Team Canada."
Nicholson said it was despicable that during her tenure as the full-time coach, Miller was the target of vicious rumors, including suggestions in print about a supposed relationship between the head coach and one of her players.
"I found it strange, and perhaps telling, that these sorts of rumors seemed to surface shortly after players had been released by the team," Nicholson said. "There has never been a shred of evidence brought forward to support some very damaging accusations that have been made.
"And any player personnel moves -- either having to do with players making the team or being released -- were consensus decisions that were made for hockey reasons only and had my full approval."