"I told a little fib," Dineen confessed Friday about the phone call in December asking if he would be interested in the job as head coach of the Canadian Olympic women's hockey team. "I'm standing on my flats boat over there with a fly rod in my hand. ... I immediately said, 'Absolutely.' I didn't even think twice about it."
While most Olympians spend years training for the Winter Games, Dineen had just two months to figure things out — more of a Usain Bolt sprint than a Frank Shorter marathon.
It took him three or four days just to learn the players' names, and not much more to earn their respect. It wasn't until the team arrived in Russia that he earned his first victory over the United States — the only true measuring stick for Canadian women's hockey.
"It's got to be hard to come in two months before the Olympics when he probably didn't know more than two or three players before," said forward Hayley Wickenheiser, who is in her fifth Winter Games and is the all-time leading scorer in Olympic women's hockey.
"But at the same time, I think it was good for our group because it's fresh eyes and a different approach," she said. "No doubts in our minds. He came off coaching in the NHL and wasn't very cold off the bench. I think that really helps. He's been a very smooth transition and has done a great job with the group that we have right now."
Dineen was a member of the Canadian Olympic team that did not medal in 1984. He went on to an NHL career that included stops in Hartford, Philadelphia, Carolina, Columbus and Ottawa. He coached in the North American minor leagues before landing a job with the NHL's Florida Panthers in 2011 and leading them to their only division title in his first season.
But with the Panthers mired in a seven-game losing streak, Dineen was fired on Nov. 8. He put in a call to Nicholson to let him know he was available for the upcoming world championships — the men's world championships, that is — and he planned a two-day vacation to be by himself.
"You get fired, you go through a lot of emotions," he said.
On Dec. 12, less than two months before the opening of the Sochi Games, Canadian women's hockey coach Dan Church quit, saying he didn't have the support of some of the people he was working with. Nicholson called Dineen, and soon he was responsible for making sure the three-time gold medalists didn't collapse in the turmoil.
Forward Caroline Oullette said the players were already nervous because the final cuts were coming, and they only had a game or two to prove themselves to the new coach. They didn't really know much about him, either, but the fact that he had played in the NHL helped him earn their respect.
"We didn't really love the timing of it all," defenseman Catherine Ward said. "But I would say it was all for the best. I think he's blended in really well."
The players took it upon themselves to ease Dineen's transition, taping their names to their helmets so he could figure out who they were. (They used their nicknames, though, and "that made it worse," Dineen said with a smile.) Soon it was Christmas, and they were going to ask him to hand out the presents but they decided not to put him on the spot.
"We didn't want to embarrass him," Goyette said.
Dineen said the adjustment wasn't hard for him because he was so busy. But he tried to keep things simple for the players by changing as little as possible.
"I think he did a great job keeping a lot of the same systems that we've been working on for months," Oullette said. "I think that was important to keep that stability. It was already a big change."
In women's hockey, there are only two real powers: Canada and the United States. To prepare for the Olympics, the teams schedule each other as often as possible so they can tune up against good competition.
They played the night Church quit, and the United States won to snap a three-game losing streak against its archrival. The Americans won the next three games, too, after Dineen took over.
But Canada won their Olympic matchup 3-2 on Wednesday to finish the round-robin unbeaten and grab the top overall seed in the elimination round. The Canadians and Americans both have a bye to the semifinals, and are the heavy favorites to meet again in the gold medal match.
It's not that the players didn't enjoy the victory, but it had special meaning for Dineen.
"It's been pretty cold in Calgary since I've been there," Dineen said, referring to the team's training camp. "So this is a nice win for me."
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this story.
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