Former Portland Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen has been selected to lead the Canadian women’s Olympic ice hockey team.

Dineen, 50, was introduced Tuesday as the team’s new head coach, replacing Dan Church, who resigned last week, less than two months from the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Dineen had been fired by the Florida Panthers of the NHL a month ago.

“Things happened pretty quickly,” said Dineen, minutes before stepping onto the ice for his first practice with the team. “I got fired a month ago and spent a number of days over the last couple of weeks deciding what my next step was. I reached out to Team Canada about several positions, but nothing that would happen until after the Olympics.

“Then this happened. I got a phone call over the weekend and immediately expressed interest.”

Dineen coached the Pirates for six seasons, winning 266 games, losing 155 in regulation and another 59 in either overtime or shoot-outs. The team made the playoffs five of his six years. He was 56-62-28 in parts of three seasons with the Panthers, leading them to the 2012 Southeast Division title.

Scott Smith, Hockey Canada’s chief operating officer, said in a press release, “We’re very excited that Kevin will join the coaching staff of Canada’s national women’s team and bring his unique perspective to the dressing room. Kevin has had success in both the AHL and NHL and we’re looking forward to him being a part of the staff for the final push towards Sochi.”

Dineen takes over a program that has won the last three gold medals at the Winter Olympics. And he knows he has little time to find out what he has for a team.

“It’s going to be a whirlwind,” he said. “We’re 52 days from the Opening Ceremonies so it will be a bit of a challenge. But I have an incredible staff here to help me out.”

The biggest thing he needs to do is to find out what his players can do.

“The first thing I said to the team when I addressed them was that it will take a little time to get to know them,” he said. “I’d say it’s probably not a strength of mine putting names to faces in the best of times. Heck, I have four kids and I sometimes forget their names. But within a couple of days I’ll know the players by their skating styles and what they can do with the puck.”

Church unexpectedly resigned last week, telling the Canadian Press, “If there isn’t confidence in what I’m doing, I need to step aside and let the team move on.”

Team Canada then reached out to Dineen. One of his selling points was that, while his professional coaching experience had always been with men, he had helped coach his daughter Hannah’s team in Maine while he was coaching the Pirates. It was a Maine Select team that competed in tournament’s during the summer.

“I think that not only helped me make this decision, but it easier for the (Team Canada) staff, knowing that I had worked with female athletes,” said Dineen. “I’m very excited about this opportunity.”

So is his daughter, Hannah, now a freshman hockey player at Colby College in Waterville.

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” she said. “I know how much he liked coaching my teams growing up.”

The teams were essentially all-star hockey teams and Dineen volunteered his time, sometimes serving as an assistant on the bench.

“I know we loved having him with us,” said Hannah Dineen. “He wasn’t a tough coach, like a lot of people would expect. He was always super laidback and all about us having fun.”

Kevin Dineen, who played for Team Canada in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, said he knows there will be a difference coaching female players.

“What I’ve found is that with the boys, there is a different physical make-up,” he said. “With the girls, you see the same kind of competitive level, the same intensity, but it’s shown on the ice in a different way. The game is entertaining and I’m very excited to work with these female athletes.”

This will be the first international coaching experience for Dineen. In addition to the Olympics, he also represented Canada six times in international competition, winning a silver medal in the world championships in 1987 and 1993.

Dineen played 1,188 NHL games with Hartford, Philadelphia, Carolina, Ottawa and Columbus, scoring 355 goals and 405 assists.

Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at:[email protected]Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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