Monday, January 27, 2014

Bill's MVC Award

When I'm jogging I like to listen podcasts on my iPod. I don't listen to music very often, usually it's one of four podcasts ("The Vinyl Cafe" w/Stuart McLean, "Under the Influence" w/Terry O'Reilly, "Mike & Mike in the Morning" [ESPN] w/Mike's Greenberg & Golic and "Prime Time Sports" w/Bob McCown).  The first two are weekly podcasts while the latter two are weekday podcasts. Of the weekdays my favourite is "Prime Time Sports" w/Bob McCown and his panelists, as it's sports from a Canadian perspective. "The Bobcat" as he is affectionately known has the on air personality not unlike that of Donald S. Cherry of "Hockey Night in Canada" fame (enough said I suspect in describing Mr. McCown).

The lead topic for his most recent podcast, with his regular "Friday Round Table" contributors, was "female coaches" and the possibility at some point that a female might coach a professional men's team. Needless to say, the panel pretty much sided with the "highly unlikely" viewpoint, not that a woman would not be capable from a variety of perspectives but that the "glass ceiling" would be very difficult to break if not as close to impossible as it might get.

It was pointed out that females have played key roles with high profile professional men's teams, most notably in the National Hockey League where a female teaches "power skating" and does so so effectively that the panel agreed that there were many, many NHL players who owe at least part of their professional careers to this woman. But, as a head coach, hmmm, not very likely and the reasons, valid or not, are many.

Canadian's National Women's hockey team has had many male coaches but although Canada has never had a female coach its national men's team, I wonder what the likelihood might be for that to occur at some point. What say you?

In the sport of curling, in Canada, there have been female coaches at the Brier but not at the helm of a men's Team Canada to date. I'm not going very far onto a limb if I were to say that very few Canadians would take much notice if that were to occur.

All this talk on "Prime Time Sports"  plus the fact that we're into "award season" led me to reflect on the "Best Performance by a Coach in a Single Game", my MVC (Most Valuable Coaching) Award.

My choice for the award is Daniele Savageau, Coach of Hockey Canada's national women's team (2001-02) and here's why.

By the time the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City rolled around, the rivalry between North America's 39th parallel cohabitants in the sport of ice hockey had been ratcheted to the frantic point. To say that the USA was eager to capture its first IIHF women's gold medal and of the Olympic variety at the expense of Canada would be putting it about as mildly as possible. By the way, that hasn't changed and in a few weeks in Sochi, Russia, the rivalry will be renewed, big time! Although Canada and the US have been the only women's national teams to play in the gold medal game, finally there are other countries sending viable teams to the quadrennial event.

Leading to the Salt Lake Games, it’s worthy of note that the USA had finally fielded a team that was the equal of Canada. That had been demonstrated in the 2001 IIHF Women's Championship whereby Canada scratched out a narrow victory. Actually one could easily argue that the team the USA Hockey sent to the Utah city was not only its best, but was the prohibitive favourite to bring the gold medal south of the border. In preliminary games between the two countries, the American women were 7/7!

It was evident from the drop of the puck at the E Centre in Salt Lake that the official was clearly out-of-her-league. She was overwhelmed by the intensity of the contest and everything that went with it. This was in the days before the two referee system so she had no help getting the game back on track. It would be easy to point a disparaging finger at this official but as stated above, she was placed into a position for which she was not prepared. I’m sure she did her best. That notwithstanding, penalty after penalty was called on Team Canada, most of them, by anyone's standards witnessing the game, were unjustified, to the point that it's my recollection that Canada played a full one-third of the game short-handed, one-third! In the midst of that maelstrom, Coach Savageau came to the team's rescue.

Sensing the injustice being perpetrated on her team, Coach Savageau would have been fully justified to rant and rave about the unfair treatment her team was receiving from the official. She had to know that had that been her response of choice, many hockey rednecks would have applauded her as she acted in defense of her players.

But she took the high road, realizing that to give in to the instincts described above would most certainly rub off on her athletes and she needed them to be focused on the task at hand, remaining disciplined to the tactics needed to deal with the hand dealt to them. She knew she was not going to affect a change in the way the game was being called. Her only control was to ensure that her team reacted in a manner that most promoted a successful outcome.

Inwardly she might have been burning up but as with great athletes, she not only deserved an MVC Award, she also could have been given an Oscar for her acting performance. She was unruffled throughout the game and her athletes picked on that and played with poise and discipline, eventually prevailing.

As the game progressed, I kept asking myself what I would do in her situation. I don't know but I would hope I'd keep it together as well but I'm not sure that I would have done it with her grace and dignity. It was the best single game coaching performance I'd ever witnessed!

I had the chance at a sports conference to briefly meet Coach Savageau. I took the opportunity to shake her hand and tell her what I just told you. In her understated demeanor she simply smiled and thanked me. I knew that Coach Savageau had been a police officer in Montreal but research led me to the knowledge that her law enforcement duties was in the area of narcotics. I’m no expert in criminology but one does have to be to know that the criminal element in the world of illicit drugs is comprised of individuals not likely to win any citizen-of-the-year awards. I learned that in one instance, the actions of Officer Savageau who ordered a forced entry into a known drug location, saved the life of a fellow officer. This is one tough woman!

No, I don't know where she is today but if someone reading this does, please forward this posting to her. She needs to know how I feel about here amazing coaching performance and the role modeling it has provided.

Coach Savageau, on behalf of my readers, thank you and please accept “Bill’s MVC Award” for the best performance by a coach in an incredibly difficult situation!

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