Olympic Profile: The man behind the machine
By John Dinner
Coaching the greatest hockey team ever assembled may seem like the world's easiest job, but it comes with Olympic-size pressure.
Prior to leaving for what has been deemed the greatest hockey tournament ever, head coach Marc Crawford of Canada's men's team had plenty to reflect on about his role at the Nagano Olympics in Japan.
"Hockey is covered extremely well in Canada and I see this as a great undertaking where people will remember a lot of what happens in this tournament," Crawford said. "That puts a lot of pressure on us, but at the same time this is going to get a lot of coverage around the world. There is a lot of pressure on teams from Europe where hockey is huge and in the U.S. where it is continuously growing."
Crawford, a native of Belleville, Ontario is currently in his fourth season as head coach of the National Hockey League's Colorado Avalanche. At only 36 years of age, he is part of the next generation of coaches. "I was extremely excited about being selected coach," he said. "It's a great thrill and I look forward to doing my absolute best."
With a perfect 3-0 record and a clinched first-place spot after round-robin play, Crawford's best continues to be absolute but it didn't happen overnight.
Spending the majority of the summer preparing himself for the Olympics, Crawford saw the Nagano Games as a personal challenge. "This is an excellent opportunity for myself to learn. Working with the elite players of the game is a great coaching experience and something I will cherish forever."
In his brief NHL coaching career, Crawford has already won a Stanley Cup and a Jack Adams Trophy for the NHL coach of the year, achieving both in his second year behind the bench. It was this type of success that convinced general manager Bobby Clarke and assistants Glen Sather and Pierre Gauthier, that Marc Crawford was the best person for the job.
"Being an assistant at the World Cup taught me a lot," Crawford said. "Coaches can learn a lot from working with such elite players, as well as working with [Edmonton Oiler general manager] Glen Sather. It is my hope that I can bring the same success and attitude that he brought during the '80s to these Olympics."
The Avalanche coach was called in to bring energy and passion back to the Canadian game. Known to wear his heart on his sleeve, Crawford's emotional style complements his exceptional understanding of the game.
With the likes of superstar forwards Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic and Eric Lindros returning from the World Cup team, the additions of goalie Patrick Roy and defenceman Ray Bourque have solidified Canada as the favourite in the tournament.
But with solid teams from the United States, Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic also being supported by major contributions from the NHL, the battle for gold will be anything but easy for Canada.
"It will be interesting to see how the players respond to the pressure of the Olympics," he said. "And it is my job to ensure the transition and adaptation [of the players] happens as smooth as possible."
With a relatively short period of time to come together as a team, the job of the coach has become that much more important.
"A lot of talk has been on the new hockey rivalry between Canada and the U.S.," Crawford said. "But in this tournament, I see six teams with opportunities to medal. No one talks about the Fins or the Czechs, but they will have an easier time adjusting to the international game." With the ice surface 15 feet wider than the norm of the NHL, a wider defensive game will have to be played, but Crawford doesn't see this as a problem. "The Canadian style of game is suited just fine for the international ice," he said. "Our size and strength will be an asset on the big sheet."
Not only does Crawford have three Avalanche players on the Canadian team (Roy, Sakic and Adam Foote), but some of his players, such as Swedish sensation Peter Forsberg and Russian Valeri Kamensky, will be competing against Canada which he respects and hopes won't give away the Canadian strategy.
"Great players make great plays," he said. "I just hope we can limit the number of them and I think my coaching [Forsberg and Kamensky] will give us a slight advantage over the other teams, but ultimately I can't get onto the ice to stop them myself."