By Josh Beneteau
Ryerson women’s hockey head coach Lisa Haley is back from Sochi. Josh Beneteau interviews her about what it was like to help coach Team Canada and win gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Was the game against America just as stressful from behind the bench?
It was heart stopping for sure. I think more so for the fans because you are just sitting there watching and waiting for what is going to happen. I think players and coaches feel like they have a little bit more control over the situation. It’s pretty stressful to be down two goals that late in the game, but I think we are all pretty excited with how it turned out.
Did you think you were going to lose?
Of course, yeah. It wasn’t like an overwhelming sinking feeling but watching the minutes tick away and still being down by two goals you start to feel the pressure for sure. But the players, I know they had experienced a lot of different scenarios this year. That was our 54th game of the season so they had been in a lot of different situations all year long. So I think that helped keep them calm in those moments so that we could still get the job done.
What was said in the change room before the third period?
Well we were only down by a goal at that point. We felt fine because that was the exact same situation we had been earlier that week against them and we pulled that game out as well. So we weren’t too worried about the one goal. But to be down two late in the game is tough. But there is that cliché that a two goal lead is the toughest to defend. And we caught some breaks as well with the puck hitting the goal post on the icing so I guess it was meant to be.
Oh yeah that was a big moment.
Yeah. That was kind of funny because a lot of us forgot that even happened until we were telling the stories later on.
The linesman kind of caused that.
Yeah that was a bit of a common theme the entire tournament, just being prepared for the officiating. I think it was really strong at times and at others it could get kind of frustrating when pucks would get caught up in their feet and things like that. That was certainly a critical moment for that to happen but I guess it evened out in the end.
What did you do after the game was finished? How did you celebrate the win?
We did a pretty good job at that part. [Laughs]. It was a late game, the game didn’t start until 9 p.m. and so with the overtime and the ceremonies it was after midnight by the time everything had wrapped up there. There was a great celebration in the dressing room with the staff and players. And then one of the more exciting parts was that we were able to go and meet our family and friends in a special section of the rink, a lounge where they were waiting for us. So it was great, we got to celebrate with our friends and family as long as we wanted to and it went into the wee hours of the night and every day beyond that we’ve been soaking it all in and enjoying ourselves. But it’s nice to get back to Canada and relax a little bit.
What was your role on the coaching staff?
Once Kevin [Dineen] came on board, I basically went back to my original duties which was focusing on the offensive side of the game. So I would stand on the end of the bench where our forwards were and give them individual feedback. I focused a lot on powerplays and offensive zone faceoffs, so those were my big hockey areas. Also, when we play the US we try to match lines a lot so I had a lot of work to do there, tracking their lines and who was coming out and making sure our head coach knew so he could get the players on the ice that he wanted.
What was the overall Sochi experience like?
It’s stunning. Fantastic. Honestly, Sochi exceed all of our expectations. The venues were beautiful, the accommodations were beautiful. The volunteers were so friendly. The weather was pretty much perfect, it was 10 to 15 degrees pretty much every day with a little bit of rain. But it was right on the ocean and spectacular really. Family and friends were well set up with their hotels and transportation so it was fantastic to be honest with you. The only negative thing is we lost all of our baggage. We lost about 60 per cent of our baggage coming home here so a lot of us are without our stuff. But that’s ok. I’d rather it happen on the way home than on the way there.
So you lost your bag?
Yeah both of my suitcases are missing. A lot of players are missing hockey equipment or luggage. We’ll get it back it will just take some time.
Did you get to catch any other events?
I only got to see men’s hockey but I got to see men’s hockey but I got to see a lot of it. I saw four out of their six games. I got to see the semi-final and final which was a lot of fun. And I had the opportunity to watch the semi-final with my family which was pretty special. But that’s all I got to see. It was a busy tournament for us because our game ran through almost the whole two weeks, we just had the three days at the end to let loose a bit.
How did this experience change your approach to coaching?
I don’t know how much will change, I certainly gained a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge. Really working with the best people in the game so that’s an opportunity for all of us to learn from each other so I gained a lot that way. So maybe that’s what’s changed is that experience gained. And I’m sure when I’m with Ryerson and we’re down by two goals with four minutes left I can speak the truth and give us an opportunity to win.
Will you be back as head coach of the Rams next season?
For sure I’ll be back there probably in the next three to four weeks on a regular basis. I’m just going to get a little bit of down time before I get ready for the offseason and next season. I’m looking forward to it.
Do you think it will be different coaching the Rams after coaching at the Olympic level?
I think the only difference is the level of competition. At the end of the day, it’s about people and relationships with the players and your staff and it doesn’t matter if it’s university or the national team. That’s really the most important part, being able to build the relationships with the players and things like that. So tactically it is probably going to be a little bit different because obviously the skill level is different, but it doesn’t mean the desire and the passion is any less. That’s what I really like about my Rams team. I really like their attitude, they have a great work ethic. It’s always a pleasure.
What is the first thing you’re going to do when you get back to Ryerson?
Just share as many moments as I can with them. I know that they were excited to see me go through all this and I want them to feel as much a part of this as I can. Hopefully I can get an opportunity to just hang out with them and share my stories and still savour the moment. Next season is still a ways away so we won’t start narrowing our focus on that. It will just be about celebrating the moments that we’ve had so far.
Does being an Olympic champion feel as awesome as it sounds?
It sure does. [Laughs]. It’s amazing. Like I said, it exceeded all my expectations. It’s a fantastic feeling. I’ve won the world championships in the past but the Olympics obviously for our sport is the Stanley Cup and it’s an amazing feeling.
Did you get a medal as a coach?
It’s always just athletes at the Olympics. We’ll get lots of great memorabilia from Hockey Canada. They’ll give us championship rings and things like that but Olympic medals are only for athletes.
*This interview has been edited for clearity.