February 14, 2007

Davidson Finds Olympic Gold

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In the office of women’s hockey head coach Doug Derraugh ’91, a signed picture of the Canadian women’s hockey team from the 2006 Winter Olympics is on display. One of the Red’s own, former head coach Melody Davidson, provided the piece of history.

After three seasons with the Red between 2002 and 2005, Davidson left Cornell to spearhead Canada’s push for the podium. Her team tore up the ice in Torino, outscoring opponents, 46-2, and defeating Sweden, 4-1, in the gold medal game.

Cornell’s women’s hockey team watched last February as its old coach contended for the sport’s most cherished honor. Soon after that, in early summer, the women found out that Davidson would not return to East Hill.
[img_assist|nid=21355|title=Story Time|desc=Melody Davidson, who coached the Cornell women’s hockey team from 2002-05, instructs her team during a match. Davidson compiled a 14-64-7 record with the Red during her tenure.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=66]

“We kind of felt where she was going in her career, it really didn’t come as that much of a surprise to me [that she stayed with the national team],” said senior captain Caroline Scott.

After the Olympics, Davidson couldn’t turn down a dream job in her own country. She signed a four-year contract with Hockey Canada last May. Her responsibilities as general manager and head coach for Canada’s Women’s High Performance Program include coordinating with approximately 75 players, 15 coaches and 25 support staff.

“We have a U-22 program and the senior team,” Davidson said. “Each has a variety of events and my role varies at each event. But the bottom line is that it is my responsibility to assemble the group that will have success in the next three world championships and ultimately lead us down the best road as we go for triple gold in our own country in 2010. When I am not in the office or coaching in the evenings, I am on the road scouting.”

This is not new for Davidson, though. She was an assistant coach in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics when the Canadians defeated the United States, 3-2, to take the top prize. And though Davidson’s successful stay in Torino was not her first brush with Olympic gold, she played different roles in each event.

“As an assistant you are not in charge — you follow. And as a head coach, you make the decisions. So if you are wrong, it is on you,” she said.

The additional title of general manager put even more of the program’s operations under Davidson’s purview. Besides the basic logistical difficulties and inconveniences of traveling, competing in Europe posed a more serious, though humorous problem for her team.

“In Salt Lake City we had our own van to do pre-scouting,” she said. “In Torino, we had to use cabs and the cab drivers did not speak English.”

At that point, however, nothing could stand in the way of the eventual champions.

“Knowing we had nothing left to do [was great],” Davidson said. “We had prepared and done everything possible to get ready. All we had left to do was perform.”

Davidson’s composure, organization and knowledge of all facets of her team always impressed Scott, who played for Davidson for two years.

“She’s a very patient coach, which is important for a team in transition like ours,” Scott said.

Davidson is as devoted to Canada as she is to hockey, naming the failure of the men’s team to make it to the gold medal game as one of the worst parts of her Olympic experience.

Her loyalty to America’s neighbor to the north even came into play in Ithaca. While some players proudly displayed their Team USA paraphernalia, Davidson flaunted her own for Team Canada.

“There were a few jokes about her having a bias toward Canadian players, which was of course unfounded,” Scott said. “It was kind of a joke rivalry on the team. Obviously she would treat everyone with the same respect.”

Having compiled a 14-64-7 record during her tenure, Davidson still stays in touch with the Red. She communicates with some players by e-mail and sent the senior class an e-mail around Christmas.

Most of her communication, however, is with her successor. She regularly corresponds with Derraugh to discuss issues ranging from recruiting to the Ivy League. Assistant coach Danielle Bilodeau ’01 also ran into her in December when they were scouting for their respective teams at a tournament in Davidson’s native Alberta, Canada.

Though she has been in contact with the Red, Davidson has not been able to see the team play this year.

“On paper they appear to have a lot of talent that should accumulate some wins,” Davidson said. “I wish them all luck in the remainder of the season.”

“For me [coaching at the national level in Canada] is the same [as at Cornell],” Davidson said. “You are dealing with people and teaching a game. Along the way you learn life lessons and you hope that in the end everyone involved has grown because of the experience. You put your best into it. The ultimate goal is to win and when you don’t you are disappointed. That [disappointment] is no less coaching Canada or Cornell.”

Coaching is universal to Davidson, although the undertaking of each coaching job may vary. For example, now that Torino is just a memory and the full-time Olympic squad has disbanded, Davidson’s duties and the team itself differ from during the Winter Games.

“In reality I am not a full-time coach,” she said. “I coach with a Junior A men’s team in Calgary called the Calgary Canucks, who play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League [AJHL]. We have had a tough year, and it appears as though we will not make the playoffs, but they have a 60-game schedule and we practice on a regular basis. I join the national team at various points of the season — September Camp, Four Nations Tournament, January Camp and the upcoming Worlds.”

The IIHF World Women’s championship begins April 2. With the team’s pre-competition camp in Dauphin, Manitoba on March 23, Davidson is busy preparing for final selections of the 2007 Worlds team.

In addition to her regular coaching duties, Davidson is involved in another project for Hockey Canada. She has high hopes that its realization will improve Canada’s hockey farm system.

“We have put forth a new U-19 program to Hockey Canada and if approved we will add it to our responsibilities, creating a full progression of U-19, U-22 and the senior national team,” Davidson said. “You play U-18 in your province. Then you have the opportunity to play U-19 for your country, and from there we scout and track the top athletes towards U-22, and the final goal is to make the National Senior Team.”

Davidson is not sure, however, if she will coach in the next Olympics, where she could oversee the results of the new program she helped build. Though she will retain her GM position next year, she will drop the title of head coach for the 2007-08 season.

“I will focus my energies on ensuring we are prepared to narrow down the player list moving to 2010,” she said.

“I will also spend more time mentoring coaches and hope to stay with the Calgary Canucks,” Davidson said. “With Hockey Canada, your job is not only to do your job but it is also to help develop people for future positions.”

Whether she will stay in coaching or move into solely non-coaching roles remains to be seen. The final decision of whether she will coach the defending champions in 2010 will be made in the spring of 2008.

“As far as the Olympics being in our own country, [there are] no special plans other than keeping us focused on the daily process versus looking too far ahead,” Davidson said. “There are many tournaments and events before the opening ceremonies in 2010.”