Wilson to coach U.S. hockey team

Updated: April 6, 2009, 7:06 PM ET
Associated Press

Ron Wilson has coached American hockey teams from the World Cup to the world championships to the Olympics.

The squad he will take into next year's Vancouver Games will look nothing like any over the past two decades.

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Wilson, the Toronto Maple Leafs' bench boss and a USA Hockey fixture as a player and coach for over 30 years, was chosen Monday as coach of the 2010 men's Olympic team and the club that will participate in the world championships this month in Switzerland.

Familiar faces such as Mike Modano, Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk, no longer have guaranteed spots on the team. The aging veterans haven't been eliminated from consideration, but they will have to prove they are better choices than up-and-coming stars.

"We're not going to exclude anyone because they're too old or too young," general manager Brian Burke. "What is important is that each player be able to do a job.

"I like to find people that are good at certain things and give them specific tasks."

Get used to names such as Zach Parise, Anaheim rookie Bobby Ryan, and New York Islanders counterpart Kyle Okposo.

"There always comes a time when you've got to turn the page," Wilson said. "A young team playing with enthusiasm coming in is the best way for us to be successful in a place like Vancouver.

"A lot of these younger people have been involved in all kinds of world championships, be it the junior level or the last couple of years in the world championships, and I think it's their time to shine."

Wilson coached many of those older players to the gold medal in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and two years later to a quarterfinals ouster at the Nagano Olympics when NHLers first participated.

That experience was a disappointment on the ice, and then off it when unidentified players vandalized their living quarters after the team was eliminated.

"Every experience makes you a better coach," Wilson said.

Canada, along with Russia and Sweden and Finland -- the opponents in the 2006 gold medal game -- will be considered favorites. Canada will have the biggest advantage by playing at home.

"We intend to field a competitive team. We're going there to win. I've made no bones about that," Burke said. "We understand the odds. We understand that we'll probably be the youngest team in the field. We understand that there won't be a whole lot of people pulling for us in that marketplace and there won't be a lot of people that think we can do this, but we think we can.

"We're going to take the best group. If Ronnie gets the group together, we play our system and execute, we think we can compete with any country on the planet."

Wilson got the job over New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and former Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, who was behind the bench at the 2006 Turin Olympics when the United States was again eliminated in the quarterfinals.

The decision was made by a committee headed by Burke, the Maple Leafs GM. The committee also consisted of Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville's David Poile, and Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell, who put together the Olympic team in 2006.

"We're going to have a young team, we're going to have an aggressive team. We want to play an attacking style," Wilson said. "That's what I've tried to kind of incorporate here in Toronto with a very young team and an inexperienced team. We've had a little bit of success playing that way and I'd like to continue that."

Wilson became the logical choice because he and Burke were also teammates at Providence College under coach Lou Lamoriello, the longtime GM of the New Jersey Devils. Wilson became available to coach at the world championships because the Maple Leafs didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"Ronnie and I have been friends and teammates going back 30-plus years and there will be people who say, 'Isn't this convenient that Burkie picked his best buddy," Burke said. "I will tell you that when we talked about the head coaching job for Switzerland and Vancouver I did not weigh in until the rest of the committee had done so, but I think we'd be fools to pass on Ron Wilson because he is a buddy of mine, which he is.

"He's also the best coach to give us the best chance of success in Switzerland and Vancouver."

The 53-year-old Wilson, in his first year as Maple Leafs coach after stints with the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals over 14 other NHL seasons, was born in Windsor, Ontario, and is a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada. He was raised in Rhode Island.

Wilson guided the United States to an upset win over Canada in the three-game final at the 1996 World Cup. He was also behind the U.S. bench at the 2004 World Cup.

"I think the gold medal runs right through Canada," Wilson said. "We've never been intimidated by playing in Canada with Team USA. In '96, we had to win two games in Montreal and that ranks right up there in my career in terms of having fought with a group of people and meeting that type of a challenge.

"It's going to be a very tough environment to win in Vancouver, but I'm confident that our players are going to be up to it."

Wilson also represented the United States as a player on the national team in 1975, '81, '83 and '87.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press