Olympics

Church steps down Canadian women's hockey coach

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP)

Canadian Olympic women's hockey coach Dan Church resigned Thursday, less than two months before the start of the Sochi Games, saying he felt others lacked confidence in his ability to lead the country to a fourth consecutive gold medal.

The announcement was made hours before Canada's 5-1 exhibition loss to the United States, the defending world champion. Hockey Canada said assistant coaches Lisa Haley and Danielle Goyette will serve as co-coaches until a new head coach is named.

''If there isn't confidence in what I'm doing, I need to step aside and let the team move on,'' Church told The Canadian Press. ''I'm heartbroken, to be honest, about the whole situation.''

The players were informed of Church's departure at their morning skate.

''Over the last few hours I've had discussions with Dan Church and effective just recently Dan has decided to resign for personal reasons,'' Hockey Canada chief operating officer Scott Smith said at a news conference Thursday. ''We truly respect the amount of time that would go into thinking that way and making that personal decision. We respect Dan's personal wishes.''

Smith, Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson and female head scout Melody Davidson will hire the next coach.

''Time certainly is of the essence,'' Smith said. ''This decision came upon us in the last few hours and we're going to react as quickly as possible.''

Davidson, who coached the Canadian women to Olympic gold medals in 2006 and 2010, said she was not a candidate.

''I left because it was time to be off that bench and I'm comfortable in the role I can play off the ice,'' she said. ''I think there's some real good candidates there who can help us and bring a different voice than mine. I'll definitely support whatever direction we go in, but it's not going to involve me as part of the coaching staff.''

The 40-year-old Church, from Toronto, did not specify whether it was his players or Hockey Canada management that had questioned his competence.

''Just discussions I'd had over the last few days made that apparent, in some meetings I'd had with leadership,'' Church said. ''I think it was just difference of opinion on the direction we were headed. In the end, I just decided if I'm getting in the way of where the team needs to go, I need to step aside and let them continue on in the process.''

Asked if Hockey Canada tried to convince him to stay, Church said, ''No, they did not.''

Church signed a two-year contract to coach the women's team in June 2012 and coached Canada to the world title that year in Burlington, Vt. The Americans beat Canada in the final of this year's world championship, in Ottawa.

Church, who did not run the team's practice Wednesday, told the CP he was flying to Toronto later Thursday. He did not address the players before his departure.

Canada also will face the United States this month in Grand Forks, N.D.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Toronto.

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