MINSK, Belarus – French hockey coach Dave Henderson was busy doing his job Friday and didn’t have much time to ponder his split allegiance. But a half-hour after France’s stunning upset of Canada at the world hockey championship, the Winnipeg-born Henderson reflected with great joy on how badly he wanted the victory.
“I wanted to beat them,” Henderson said softly. “I told the guys before the game, ‘I want to win this game. I really want to win this game.’ I say that probably before every game, but this one has a special meaning.”
The 10-year head coach of France’s national team, who also lived in Montreal before moving overseas in 1975, led France to a 3-2 shootout win in Friday’s opening game. It was just the second time Canada had lost to the French.
“It was special just to coach against Canada,” the 62-year-old Henderson said. “I used to listen to the radio when they were over here playing in the ’60s and ’70s. … I used to listen to that all the time: Hockey, hockey, hockey, our family was like that.
“My dad, if he was still alive, would probably not talk to me for about three months,” he added.
Henderson’s hockey story begins with his father, who was born in Winnipeg and worked at Air Canada’s maintenance base there before it was relocated to Montreal in the early 1960s. Dave Henderson lived in Montreal into adulthood and went to McGill’s Macdonald College and Sir George Williams University (which later merged with Loyola to become Concordia) before moving to France to continue playing.
“I could’ve never made the NHL, but I wanted to do hockey,” he said. “I sacrificed something over there to come over here, and I ended up having a life in hockey in France.”
Henderson became a player-coach at several levels before retiring at age 40 to go into full-time coaching. Some family remains in Canada, and he still identifies with his homeland.
“I’m Canadian,” Henderson said. “My wife’s French. I consider myself a person. I’m Canadian. When Canada’s playing, I’m behind them, in any sport. When France is playing, I’m behind them.”
But when Henderson saw Canada as France’s first opponent at the world championships, he was happy. Not because it used to be his home but because of what that challenge meant for his team, which had former NHL goaltender Cristobal Huet, current Dallas Stars forward Antoine Roussel and part-time Ottawa Senators forward Stephane Da Costa.
Henderson wanted to play the best, then got to revel in beating the best.
“Canada is where hockey is,” he said. “Everybody knows that, and if you beat Canada that’s a huge, huge thing for French hockey.”
Beating Russia at last year’s tournament ranked up there with beating Canada in Huet’s eyes. For Da Costa, who wasn’t at the 2013 tournament, this was the biggest victory of his international career.
The same could be said for Henderson, who is still Canadian in his heart.
“I’m grateful to France for what I’ve been given or what I’ve worked to get,” he said. “But I’m still red and white.”
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