Waddell will select U.S. coaching staff
Way back in 1979, Don Waddell had no idea he'd get to the Olympics wearing a tie instead of skates.
An ankle injury kept him off the "Miracle On Ice" hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Lake Placid Games, but a successful career as an executive with the NHL and USA Hockey landed him a second chance.
Waddell, the only general manager in Atlanta Thrashers history, was selected Tuesday to also serve as GM of the 2006 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
"This is the pinnacle of international competition," he said. "I missed that opportunity as a player and I never thought 25 years ago that I'd be sitting here and have that opportunity as a manager."
Waddell was chosen just four days after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the league will send its players to the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, and the 2010 games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The use of NHL players for the third straight Olympics was not secured until the league reached agreement with the union last week on a new collective bargaining agreement.
While running the Thrashers and dealing with the nuances of the new NHL labor deal, Waddell will also be working with Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia's assistant general manager, and Jim Johannson, a two-time Olympic player.
Together they hope to select a coach with international experience within 10 days and then get to work on picking the team.
Waddell has served as a USA Hockey executive in various capacities for the past seven years, including as the GM at this year's World Hockey Championships and the assistant to St. Louis' Larry Pleau for the 2004 World Cup.
The United States was beaten in the quarterfinals at the world championships by the Czech Republic eight months after losing a semifinal game of the World Cup in St. Paul, Minn., to Finland.
The Olympic tournament will take place from Feb. 15-26 and consist of 12 teams. Preliminary rosters of 60-70 potential players must be submitted to the International Ice Hockey Federation by October 1, four days before the NHL season begins.
The final team must be chosen by Jan. 10. The NHL will eliminate All-Star weekend in Olympic years.
USA Hockey will announce Thursday a list of about 35 players who will be invited to a September orientation camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. The camp will not be for tryouts and attendance will not be required to make the team.
Performance in the first half of the NHL season will be a key factor, especially for those players who sat out all year because of the lockout. Because the Olympic schedule features six games in nine days, Waddell is looking to fill the roster with a mix of veterans and younger players.
"We are going to leave a lot of good players off this team, but that's a good thing because that means that the base of U.S.-born players is better," Waddell said.
While using NHL players in the Olympics, the Americans won the silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, after not winning a medal four years earlier in Nagano, Japan.
The United States captured the gold medal in 1960 at Squaw Valley, Calif., and 20 years later in Lake Placid, N.Y.
"We have one purpose when we go to Italy and that's to win the gold medal," Waddell said.
Since taking over the Thrashers before their inaugural season of 1999-2000, Waddell has built a team that only once failed to improve from the previous season.
"He's been a leader in the development of hockey in the United States and we know he'll do everything he can to build a team that we will all be proud of," USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press