The Canadian women’s hockey team needed a change. The return of the Rivalry Series will be the first major test

Tasked with coaching the Canadian women’s hockey team back to supremacy, Troy Ryan sought guidance from experts in a different sport.

Ryan was promoted from associate to head coach of the women’s team in early January, after Perry Pearn was dismissed. He’ll step behind Canada’s bench Monday night in Victoria, where the host team will try to dig itself out of a hole in the five-game Rivalry Series against the United States.

Canada lost the first two games in December. Game 4 goes Wednesday in Vancouver, and the finale is set for Feb. 8 in Anaheim, Calif.

Ryan arrived in Victoria a few days before the players did to spend time with mentors Ken and Kathy Shields, who coached the University of Victoria men’s and women’s basketball teams to a combined 15 national championships. The husband and wife also coached Canada’s men’s and women’s teams respectively and are members of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

“Ken and his wife had such storied careers. You can double dip a little bit,” Ryan told The Canadian Press. “It’s someone outside the game of hockey. We can sometimes be in such a bubble.

“What Ken talked about, the relationships and the environment you create, is everything. Even to hear his offensive and defensive concepts, the importance of environment and relationships — and hearing it from someone who is older than I am, but also someone from a completely different sport with the success he has — it’s so valuable.”

An assistant coach since 2016, Ryan’s familiarity with the players and vice versa absorbs some of the shock of the mid-season coaching change.

A change in leadership style was required, Hockey Canada’s director of women’s national teams Gina Kingsbury said when Pearn was fired.

“With me being the associate coach at the time, any time an organization has to make a decision like that, it comes with mixed emotions, mixed feelings,” Ryan said. “Perry and I have a really good relationship.

“There also is an exciting part for me. Anybody that coaches in any sport, when they get an opportunity to be named the head coach of their national program, I think it is a special thing.”

The 48-year-old from Spryfield, N.S., will also coach Canada in his home province at the women’s world championship, from March 31 to April 10 in Halifax and Truro.

Pearn, who came in with 21 years of experience as an assistant coach in the NHL, was named head coach prior to the 2018-19 season. Canada went 10-7 during his tenure, but 2-6 against the U.S. and lost to Finland in the semifinal of the 2019 world championship. Canada didn’t play for gold for the first time in the history of the tournament and settled for bronze.

Ryan was head coach and Pearn his assistant for a pair of November exhibition games against the Americans, which Canada won 4-1 and 5-2 in Cranberry Township, Pa. Canada started fast in both games, outscoring the Americans a combined 5-1 in the opening periods. Pearn resumed head coaching duties for the first two Rivalry Series games. Canada lost 4-1 in Hartford, Conn., and 2-1 in Moncton. Ryan doesn’t feel his promotion is the product of four games, however.

“It’s such a small data sample,” Ryan said. “I worked closely with Perry on a lot of things. I agree with a lot of concepts Perry was implementing into this program. I think he’s provided a really good foundation for me to take over in this role.

“I must also be myself as a coach. Over time, obviously (I’ll) implement more of my concepts and my values. I think if I’m able to do that, we can have success.”

Canada’s current roster includes 19 players from the two games of the series. Hockey Canada and USA Hockey agreed to ice non-college players for the remaining three.

Defenders Erin Ambrose of Keswick, Ont. and Brigette Lacquette of Mallard, Man. replace Cornell defenders Micah Zandee-Hart and Jaime Bourbonnais on the Canadian side. Forwards Laura Stacey of Kleinberg, Ont. and Jessie Eldridge of Barrie, Ont. draw in for Meghan Agosta and Ann-Sophie Bettez.

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The Rivalry Series presents an opportunity for players to climb Hockey Canada’s depth chart to a berth on the world championship squad.

“You’re still part evaluating, but part preparing for world championship,” Ryan said. “Winning, sometimes people tend to avoid (talking about) it, especially when you’re down two-nothing in the series. It’s still important to have that as one of your primary goals, find a way to come back in the series and ultimately win it.”

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