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
Waddell, the only general manager in Atlanta Thrashers history,
was selected Tuesday to also serve as GM of the 2006 U.S. Olympic
"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
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
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