Wilson's experience 'a tremendous plus'

Updated: February 12, 2004, 6:29 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- San Jose Sharks coach Ron Wilson was chosen Friday to lead Team USA in this summer's World Cup of Hockey.

Wilson, no stranger to international competition, will be the coach of the American team for the second time in the World Cup. The eight-nation tournament will take place from Aug. 30-Sept. 14 in North America and Europe.

The 45-year-old Wilson, who also coached Anaheim and Washington in the NHL, was selected by Team USA general manager Larry Pleau and assistant Don Waddell.

"Ron's name kept popping up as a candidate as we went through this. His record speaks for itself," Pleau said on a conference call.

In a subsequent news conference held during the NHL's All-Star weekend, Canada filled out its coaching staff -- naming Toronto's Pat Quinn as the head coach along with assistants Ken Hitchcock and Wayne Fleming from Philadelphia, and Ottawa's Jacques Martin.

Wilson and the U.S. management team still has to pick the remainder of its coaching staff and choose 26 players by the May 15 deadline.

"We didn't think we'd have this type of announcement at the All-Star break," Pleau said. "But as we went through the process, we felt that Ron was the guy."

Canada's staff, chosen by the management team headed up by Wayne Gretzky and Kevin Lowe, is the same one that led Canada to the 2002 Olympic gold medal -- its first in 50 years.

"The coaching staff did a marvelous job in 2002," Gretzky said. "We all agreed, why mess with a winning formula."

Quinn was expected to get the job again, and there is no doubt he wanted it.

"I could have understood if they had gone another direction, but I would never forgive them," Quinn said with a laugh.

Wilson took over as Sharks coach last season as the team was on its way to missing the playoffs for the first time in six years. He has helped San Jose quickly turn things around.

The Sharks entered the All-Star break atop the Pacific Division, five points ahead of the Dallas Stars.

"I just like the way he handles himself as a person, he is always in control," Pleau said.

Wilson led the United States to the gold medal in the 1996 World Cup, the last time the event was held, and the Americans beat Canada in the championship game.

"Experience is a tremendous plus in a tournament like this, and Ron has been through it," Pleau said.

He was also the U.S. head coach for the world championships in 1994 when the team finished fourth, and then for its third-place finish two years later.

Wilson was at the helm for the disappointing fifth-place performance at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first in which NHL players participated. That tournament ended on a sour note after players damaged property.

"Coaching and playing is all about basically one word, and that's trust," Wilson said. "We created quite an environment in '96 and failed in '98, but those core group of guys, because of the success that we had, we built that kind of bond of trust."

The World Cup victory eight years ago gave Wilson the edge to take over for the late Herb Brooks, who coached the United States to the silver medal in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Brooks, who died in a car accident last August, is best known for coaching the "Miracle on Ice" team that shocked the sports world by winning the gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.

Wilson played on the U.S. national team in 1975, '81, '83 and '87.

"One of the biggest thrills in my career, both as a player and a coach, is representing my country," he said.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press