Troy Ryan will coach the Canadian women’s hockey team at the next Winter Olympic Games.
The 50-year-old from Spryfield, N.S., and Hockey Canada have agreed to an unprecedented four-year extension, which keeps Ryan behind Canada’s bench until Milan and Cortina, Italy, in 2026.
Ryan navigated Canada to both an Olympic gold medal in Beijing in February and a world championship in 2021 after taking over midway through the 2019-20 season for Perry Pearn.
“We want to play for him. We want to do that extra mile for him,” Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin told The Canadian Press. “When a coach has that pulse of the team, I think it’s pretty special.
“We’re lucky that he’s back with us for a long run now.”
Ryan and the Canadian women opened the 2022 world championship Thursday against Finland in Herning, Denmark.
Ryan’s extension makes him the longest-tenured head coach of a national women’s team.
Melody Davidson coached Canada multiple times from 1997 to 2010 — and to Olympic gold in both 2006 and 2010 — but not continuously as others rotated through the job during that span.
Canada reclaimed Olympic gold in Beijing after losing in a shootout to the United States in 2018, and captured its first world title in nearly a decade last year in Calgary under Ryan.
He spent his first full season at the helm on Zoom calls with players because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out international competition and halted training camps.
“What he has been able to do with this team in the span of two years, two of the years being the pandemic, but one of them being literally virtual calls, a season that was very disruptive for him, to be able to turn that group around, to be able to perform as well as we did at the Olympic Games is extremely impressive,” said Hockey Canada director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury.
“That shift in the way we play has really evolved in the last couple years and the common denominator would be him.”
Since taking over his post, Ryan’s record as a head coach is 27-2-2 in international women’s hockey, including 12-2-2 versus archrival U.S.
He believes his lengthy mandate provides stability for the national program.
“I’m trying to build something that is even better than it already is,” Ryan said. “I think it gives everybody some consistency from Gina Kingsbury right down through the staff and the athletes.
“When a coach is having communication with an athlete, they know I’ll follow through because I’m going to be that person that’s going to be here.”
Canada’s players give Ryan the stamp of approval on multiple fronts, not the least of which is permission to make mistakes in the name of creating offence, while also adhering to his systems.
“I feel like I can be myself. I’m never afraid to make mistakes,’ said defender and three-time Olympian Jocelyne Larocque,
“I really think in the past, we played not to lose, and then you’re just not taking those risks that need to happen in order to be successful.
“This environment encourages creativity, it encourages people being themselves and encourages people taking calculated risks.
“Not running around like a chicken with its head cut off, but playing within a structure, but there’s so much freedom to be creative.”
As general manager of the national team at the time, Davidson brought Ryan on board as an assistant coach to Laura Schuler for the 2017 world championship and 2018 Olympic Games.
“I know for me personally, he’s honestly been instrumental in helping me make the Olympic team in 2018,” forward Sarah Nurse said.
“As players, we get in our own heads. He has a unique way of calming us down and connecting with each of us as individuals.”
Another world championship just six months after February’s Olympic final — the first women’s championship held in an Olympic year — plus this month’s 142-player summer camp in Calgary that doubled as his selection camp gave Ryan a head start on the next Olympic quadrennial.
Kingsbury said Ryan agreed to an extension shortly after the Winter Games in Beijing.
Kingsbury and Canadian players have expressed concern about the financial future of their program in light of the federal government freezing Hockey Canada’s funding.
Canada’s governing body of hockey plunged into turmoil in May when allegations of sexual assault against members of the 2018 junior men’s team became public.
Ryan will coach Canada in a seven-game Rivalry Series with the U.S. this winter, as well as the 2023 world championship in Canada in a location yet to be named.
The U.S. will host the 2024 world championship.
Hockey Canada traditionally centralizes the women for six months in Calgary for training and games before a Winter Olympics.
But if national-team players, the majority of whom are members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHA), get the pro league they desire by then, centralization in 2025-26 may look different, Kingsbury said.