Hockey Canada seeks consistency in Laura Schuler

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Hockey Canada had a number of announcements recently as the team prepares for summer camps ahead of centralization. The Canadians announced their centralization roster, and in addition to the women who will don the maple leaf for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, Hockey Canada named Laura Schuler as head coach.

The pioneering forward was on Canada’s first women’s national team in 1990, and played at Northeastern University, where she collected 64 goals and 111 points in her four-year career. She took part in three world championship tourneys before her first Olympics in 1998, when women’s hockey was introduced at the Winter Games. While playing for the Canadian National Team, Schuler scored 14 points in 15 games. She’s one of only four players to score four goals in a game, accomplishing that against Germany in 1990.

Once Shuler retired as a player, she quickly moved to coaching. She’s been behind the bench at UMass, Northeastern, Minnesota-Duluth and, most recently, Dartmouth. While there, two players made the all-Ivy League squad as seniors — Robyn Chemago and Kennedy Ottenbreit.

Schuler is an interesting choice for Hockey Canada. She has made history more than once in her career that has spanned over 25 years, and she will again in PyeongChang when she becomes the first former Olympian to coach the women’s hockey team.

“It was a great honor to represent Canada as a player at the 1998 Winter Olympics and the feeling is the same to be given the opportunity to lead Team Canada in PyeongChang,” Schuler told the media. “I’m extremely fortunate to have the support of Dartmouth’s athletic administration and the women’s hockey team to pursue this goal.”

She’s been behind the bench for the Canadians for a few years now, coaching in two Four Nations tournaments, two world championships and a handful of exhibition games. She’s been associated with what some might consider a decline in Canada’s performances at these tournaments. The team had to settle for silver in all four, losing to the suddenly dominant Americans.

While Canada defeated the United States handily in two exhibition games in December, the games were fairly meaningless. The Canadian squad has demonstrated an inability to close the deal in meaningful games, frequently losing a lead en route to losing the gold.

Still, Hockey Canada is confident in Schuler’s ability to get the best from her team in the Olympics. Melody Davidson, the general manager of the women’s national team, said, “Anything and everything that can help this team be successful she will use, explore, implement. I know there will be no stone left unturned. That’s just what former players bring.

“She knows and understands the game. She knows how she wants to operate and how she wants to play. She knows what she wants the identity of her team to be. I’m excited to see how she’s going to take that and run with it.”

Consistency was key in the decision to bring Schuler aboard for Olympic preparations. Canada recently experienced a fluctuation in its coaching staff and Davidson believes it had a negative effect on the team. “We want to make sure we have stability and we have consistency throughout this year,” Davidson said.

Several key members of Canada’s Olympic glory days stepped away from the game, and there was a substantial amount of roster turnover. It does make sense that the coach who has been with the team for world championships and Four Nations Cups would continue to lead the women during their Olympic quest.

Schuler was an important part of Canadian history in her playing career, and now the same will be true as a coach. Despite the recent string of silvers, Canada is likely the favorite going into the tournament, if only because of its past success.

After winning the silver medal as a player on the women’s team at the 1998 Olympics, Schuler could surpass that achievement by taking home the gold as a coach 20 years later.

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