- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A new generation of players will be counted on to return the U.S. hockey team to the medal stand next winter at the Vancouver Olympics, but they will be led by a veteran of international competition.

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was introduced Monday as Team USA's coach for the 2010 Games as well as this month's world championship in Switzerland, the second time he will be in the Olympics.

Wilson, who guided the Washington Capitals to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance, was the U.S. coach in 1998 when the Americans finished sixth and became infamous when several players trashed their hotel rooms in Nagano, Japan.

The Americans finished with silver in 2002 but were a dismal eighth in 2006. The United States has won only three medals in the last 12 Olympics and figures to be an underdog in Vancouver.

“There's going to be a tremendous challenge going into Canada, and obviously the goal medal runs through Canada,” Wilson said during a conference call. “They're going to be the favorites, but we've never been intimidated playing in Canada.”

A committee of five NHL general managers headed by Toronto's Brian Burke selected Wilson over 2006 Olympic coach Peter Laviolette and New York Rangers coach John Tortorella.

“We feel Ron's the coach that gives us the best chance in Vancouver,” said Burke, who will serve as GM for Team USA. “We understand how difficult the job is going to be. The Canadian team will be the favorite, and the Russians will have a wonderful team. And we understand we'll probably be the youngest team in the field.”

The 2010 team will have a far different look than the first three Olympics to feature NHL players.

Burke did not rule out Keith Tkachuk (37 years old next winter) or Bill Guerin, Mike Modano and Doug Weight (all will be 39) making a fourth consecutive Olympic appearance but admitted “this may be the first Olympic team in a long, long time without one of those guys.”

“When you look around the NHL, there's a new generation of NHL players,” Wilson said. “It's remarkable we still have a number of guys who I was involved with in 1996 [and 1998] still playing pretty well. But there always comes a time when you have to turn the page, and a young team playing with enthusiasm may be the best way for us to be successful in Vancouver.”

Young players Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel are candidates to make their Olympic debuts, and the blue line could include 2006 Olympians Brian Rafalski and Jordan Leopold.

Wilson said the biggest change from his 1998 experience will be playing in North America, competing on an NHL-size rink (15 feet narrower than international ice) and conducting a mid-August orientation camp in Chicago to create chemistry.

“What both ourselves and Canada learned from 1998 is that we need to get our team together in the summer,” Wilson said. “We assembled ourselves, flew over, had one practice and unfortunately never really came together as a team. I'm very much into team-building and preparation, and that experience has led to a much better procedure - the week we spend in Chicago will go a long way toward helping us becoming a better team.”


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