Team USA coach Ron Wilson has seen it all
They had rallied back from 0-1 in games to win the spectacular trophy that divided opinions.
Back then he was already an experienced NHL coach, with six seasons under his belt, three as an assistant in Vancouver and three as the head coach of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. By then, he had also coached in two World Championships, and represented USA as a player in four, although he says he doesn’t remember much about those tournaments.
Wilson was USA Hockey’s go-to coach for the 2002 Olympics, the 2004 World Cup, and the 2010 Olympics where he coached Team USA to the final, which Team Canada won thanks to Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal.
Wilson has been out of hockey since 2012 when the Toronto Maple Leafs fired him mid-season.
But now he’s back, and he’s back with a bunch of kids who can’t remember the 1996 World Cup because only twelve players had been born when he celebrated the triumph, and the oldest one, Scott Eansor, was barely nine months old.
“Although, I have reminded them a few times of that,” he told IIHF.com with a chuckle and notes that he’s now coaching the second generation of Tkachuks, as he had Matthew’s father Keith on the 1996 team.
Three years seems like a long time to be out of hockey but whatever changes have taken place in the game, Wilson hasn’t had any problems keeping up with them.
“I’ve talked to other coaches and even if maybe a few things have changed, the kids are the same. I’ve really enjoyed coaching them. They have that youthful enthusiasm, and these guys have made [coaching] fun again.
“Right now they’re all fresh and raw, and willing to learn, and I’ve really enjoyed that. They want to improve and do anything they can to help the team at the moment. That makes it very easy for me. All these kids want to make the team better,” he says.
The coach has reason to be happy. Team USA has played itself into the final four. It has the tournament’s leading goal-scorer in Auston Matthews, with seven, and the starting goalie with the best save percentage in Alex Nedeljkovic, 95.35. They’re tied for most goals for in the tournament, with Sweden, 25, and behind Finland who’s got 29. Their penalty kill is third best in the tournament, 91.67, and while their power play is only sixth, it’s still clicking at 22.73 percent.
“I think we’re hitting the right notes, we haven’t had any miscues. We only lost one game, and we should’ve scored against Sweden on power play in that game, too, and should’ve won that game,” Wilson says.
Team USA has very quietly advanced to the semi-final against Russia. There has been no drama whatsoever. The biggest adjustment for the Americans may be moving from the Helsinki Ice Hall’s small rink to the bigger one in Hartwall Arena.
“I would think it matters a little bit but our team has been able to adjust to any situation, so I don’t think it takes more than one practice, a few minutes, to get used to that,” he said.
In a short tournament, there’s no time anyway. All adjustments have to be made quickly, and that’s something Wilson thrives on.
“We’ll be together for a total of three weeks. That’s a short period of time. I know one of my strengths is putting a team together in a short amount of time, I’ve had my biggest successes when I’ve had to put the team together quickly. One thing you do learn is to see through the [crap] and get to the point eight away. This is coaching shorthand,” he says.
“I don’t feel any pressure because I have won everything. This is a lot of fun. Some of the [other coaches] are early in the careers and they’re feeling the pressure, as is any coach, and I put pressure on myself. But if I cut through all the [crap], there is no pressure. It’s another hockey tournament and we’re playing really well,” he says.
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