HALIFAX – When Doug Shedden was hired by Finland to coach the national team, not everyone was happy. “Sure, there were some people who wondered why they didn’t hire a Finnish coach,” he acknowledged. “Imagine Canada hiring a Finnish coach. People would say there are plenty of Canadians who could do the job.” However, Team Finland general manager Jari Kurri didn’t care about the naysayers—he cared about winning—and he thought Shedden was the right man for the job.
Shedden went from zero to hero pretty quickly. Before taking over Team Finland, he had been coaching in that country for only three years, and before that he had been coaching for 13 years in North America. His time was marked by four championships in the Central Hockey League and another in the United Hockey League. His last posting was two unsuccessful seasons with the St. John’s Maple Leafs, AHL affiliate for Toronto, a team with which he played for three seasons (mostly in the minors, 1988-91).
His transition from AHL to Finland was simple. “I was lying on a beach in Florida and I got a call from Pentti Matikainen,” he explained. “I didn’t know Pentti or much about Finland, but he got my name and Dave King had just left the team, so they needed someone. I took the job.”
Matikainen was general manager for Helsinki’s IFK team, one of the premier team’s in Finland’s top league. Shedden’s first year in 2005-06 was a success, and he was immediately poached by the other Helsinki team, Jokerit. In his first year with Jokerit he took the team to the finals where it lost to Karpat. During his second season, his reputation grew. “I heard rumours about the possibility of me being asked to coach the national team,” he said, “and then Jari Kurri called me. We had a few meetings and an interview, and then he hired me. There were lots of people who wondered why me, and I understand that, but it’s not my fault.”
Once Shedden was on board with the national team, he became part of a committee to pick players for the 2008 World Championship. “Jari formed a group to discuss all options, and then he went on a tour a few months ago meeting with players and asking them if they’d be interested in playing. Some said no, and in a country like Finland that can have a devastating effect. Still, we have a very good team here.”
Shedden brings plenty to the table at the World Championships in Canada. He is a Canadian who has a dozen years of pro experience as a player. He has plenty of coaching experience and experience in Europe. And now, he is bringing that all together, coaching a national European team at the World Championship, but on the smaller North American ice. “We’ve believed all along we have the kind of team that can do better on the smaller ice. Russia is a very skilled team and the ice doesn’t suit them as much, but we play a team game which is better on the smaller ice. We like our chances.”
The last Canadian coach of the national team was Len Lunde back in 1973 when he took the team to fourth place. Given the importance of this hiring by Kurri, the fact that the tournament is in Canada, and the reputation of Shedden, fourth place in 2008 would be considered a definite disappointment. “We have a good team,” Shedden said simply. “We’ll see what happens.”