Dooley returns to his hockey roots

He’s spent a season guiding Nelson’s Junior B squad, but this week Leafs assistant coach Sean Dooley is back to being a player.

Sean Dooley spent last season behind the Junior Leafs bench.

Sean Dooley spent last season behind the Junior Leafs bench.

He’s spent a season guiding Nelson’s Junior B squad, but this week Leafs assistant coach Sean Dooley is back to being a player.

Dooley headed to Ireland Saturday, to join up with senior men’s national team in advance of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division II world championships. The team will head to Croatia to begin round robin play this Sunday.

This year’s competition is a step up for the Irish squad, which earned a berth in Division II by finishing first in 2010’s Division III finals. Dooley, who played centre for the team during its winning run last year, says he’s expecting a tougher fight this time out.

“Division III is more countries where hockey’s a minority sport, and Division II is bigger,” he says. “We’re playing Iceland, Bulgaria, Croatia and China, which all have pro leagues within their country.”

Dooley holds both Irish and Canadian citizenship, something he says is common amongst national team players, who may also hail from the U.S. After  two years playing pro hockey in the Republic for the Dundalk Bulls, he was tapped to join the national team.

“I plan on playing each year, now that I’m eligible,” he adds.

While the competition in Division II is stronger, Dooley says he’s confident Ireland will put on a good show.

“We have a pretty good team,” he says. “We won the Division III pretty soundly, so we have some pretty good players. We’ll see how it goes.”

The biggest threat is likely to be Iceland’s national team, which got kicked down to Division II after placing last in the 2010 Division I competition.

“They’ll be pretty strong, but other than that I think we’ve got a pretty good chance with the other teams — and Iceland too, but they’ll be our toughest.”

He’s also confident a winter that left him little time for playing hockey won’t have done too much harm to his game.

“I’ve got to get some practice in when I get there, but I was always on the ice with the Leafs, so I was always skating and shooting around,” he says. “It’s just the team play that I need to jump in and get used to again. But I feel pretty confident about it.”

The Irish men’s team begins its championship quest with a game against Bulgaria Sunday. Dooley’s parents, John and Pat, are also heading to Croatia for the series.