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USA Hockey officially names Ron Wilson head coach of 2010 Olympic team

Ron Wilson will oversee what will likely be a changing of guard on the U.S. Olympic hockey team at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

Ron Wilson will oversee what will likely be a changing of guard on the U.S. Olympic hockey team at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

Wilson has been named head coach of both the 2010 Olympic squad and the U.S. team for the 2009 IIHF World Hockey Championships next month in Switzerland.

The Toronto Maple Leafs coach, who was born in Windsor, Ont., but holds both Canadian and U.S. citizenship, will work his second Olympics.

He also was behind the bench at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, where the Americans made bigger headlines for trashing their rooms at the athletes village than for their play on the ice.

Wilson's biggest success in international play was leading the U.S. squad that upset Canada in the 1996 World Cup. He also coached at the 2004 World Cup as well as two previous world championships.

But the core of players he coached at past events and who represented the U.S. time and again - Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Brett Hull, Bill Guerin and others - are mostly retired or on their last legs.

The new Americans are likely to be led by young stars like Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan, Paul Stastny and goalie Ryan Miller, not to mention 34-year-old goaltender Tim Thomas.

"I think we'll have a young team, we'll have an aggressive team," Wilson said on a conference call Monday. "We want to play an attacking style.

"This year, that's what I've tried to incorporate here in Toronto with a very young, inexperienced team. We've had a little bit of success playing that way and we hope to continue that."

Wilson was picked ahead of Peter Laviolette, who coached the 2006 U.S. Olympic squad to an eighth-place finish in Turin, Italy, and John Tortorella, who coached at the 2008 world championship in Halifax and Quebec City.

Brian Burke, who is general manager of the U.S. squad and the Leafs, said Wilson was the unanimous choice of a committee that included fellow NHL GMs Paul Holmgren, Ray Shero, Don Waddell, Dean Lombardi and associate GM David Poile.

"Ron and I are friends and teammates going back 35 years, and there will be people who say 'Isn't this convenient that Burkie picked his best buddy,' but when we talked about the coaching job for Switzerland and Vancouver, I did not weigh in until the rest of the committee had done so,"said Burke.

"But I think we'd be fools to pass on Ron Wilson, not just because he's a buddy of mine, which he is, but we feel he gives us the best chance to win."

He said he hoped to have Laviolette and Tortorella involved in the team in some capacity.

Burke also wants to involve 47-year-old Chris Chelios, who still playing for the Detroit Red Wings after 25 seasons, although not as a player, but as perhaps a "special adviser."

"It's not going to be the 20 warriors," Burke said of the team's old stalwarts. "It's not going to be the same group, where these guys all knew what number they were going to wear going into camp.

"There is more competition, which is a good thing. We respect those warriors, but we're going to turn a page too. You can make an argument that Chris Chelios is the greatest warrior ever to wear the red, white and blue and I have asked him to be involved in some capacity. We have to sort out what that is."

However, he said that older players still in the NHL, like Modano, Guerin or Doug Weight, will not automatically be excluded from the 2010 team.

"We haven't ruled out anybody," he said. "It may the first national team in Switzerland or in the Olympics without one of those guys on it, but we haven't made that determination yet."

The talent pool of U.S.-born players has grown and there are more players to choose from now, although it's debatable whether they are better than Modano, Leetch and Co.

Candidates for the team, aside from a gimme pick like Brian Rafalski, will likely include veterans like Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Paul Martin, and younger players like Dustin Brown, Peter Mueller and David Backes. Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville is from Repentigny, Que., but has dual citizenship and played for the U.S. at the 2008 world championships.

"What's important is that each player can do a job," said Burke. "You can take the 20 best guys and hope they can adapt to jobs, or take guys who can do certain things.

"I'm more of the latter - I like people who are good at certain things and give them specific tasks. If we play our system and execute, we think we can compete with any country on the planet."

Like Canada, the Americans will have a camp this summer with potential Olympic team players to get to know each other and work on a system of play for the games.

Wilson said that was the big lesson both countries learned from Nagano, where they formed in mid-season, had one or two practices and then hit the ice for games.

"We had off-ice issues, but they paled in comparison to what happened on the ice, in the sense that we never got our game going," said Wilson. "In the last couple of Olympics, because of team building, we established a sort of order in the summer time. It led to much better performances for us and for Canada."

An advantage for both Canada and the U.S. will be playing on a smaller NHL-size rink, but the Americans are likely to remain underdogs to international powers like Canada, Russia and defending Olympic champion Sweden, who have been pouring out talent in recent years.

"It's a tremendous challenge going right into Canada and obviously, the gold medal runs right through Canada," he said. "They're going to be the favourites, but we've never been intimidated playing in Canada.

"You go back to 1996, we had to win two games in Montreal and that ranks right up there in my career as far as having fun with a group of people and meeting that kind of challenge."

 
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