02/16/2010 3:19 PM - From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)
VANCOUVER -- Team USA coach Ron Wilson has been around the international hockey block a few times before. To say he has learned a thing or two is an understatement.
Now, the question becomes whether Wilson can apply those lessons -- learned in winning the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and finishing out of contention at the 1998 Olympics -- to the benefit of this American team, which enters this Olympic tournament as a decided outsider when it comes to medal contention.
"At the one in 1998 everyone expected us to probably win the gold," Wilson said. "And we found out rather quickly that it's hard to catch lightning in a bottle once, let alone twice."
But despite the enormity of the task, Wilson is eager to give it another try.
In fact, he has spent every free moment -- which have been few and far between as he guides the Toronto Maple Leafs through a disappointing and trying season -- thinking about how to best position his team to hit the ground running when play starts Tuesday.
One of the solutions Wilson arrived at was to let his players know not only what role they will be playing, but also which players they will be paired with. He did so, through email, last week.
"We thought of informing them a week ahead of time so they can close their eyes and imagine playing with each other," Wilson said Sunday.
And that is exactly the reaction he got from the players.
New Jersey forward Zach Parise found out that he will start the tournament riding shotgun for Colorado center Paul Stastny and Chicago sniper Patrick Kane to form a pretty dangerous top line
Immediately, he closed his eyes and remembered the chemistry he had with Kane at the 2007 World Championships. He has never played with Statsny, but that was of little consequence as his mind wandered in the past week.
"To be honest, right when I found out I started to think," Parise said. "Granted I was still playing for the Devils, but you start to think about the way Stastny plays and where he likes to go on the ice. I know he likes to stop play behind the net a lot, so I think of what I can do and what does Kane like to do. You start to think what you can do to help these guys and make the line better."
Jamie Langenbrunner, another Devil, was lost in similar thoughts at times this week. He was told that he will be playing with Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler.
It's clear that trio will be the team's energy line, as capable of laying a big hit on the forecheck as of scoring a pretty goal. For his part, Langenbrunner was happy to know what his role will be for the next two weeks.
"You get a chance to understand what roles you are going to be in," Langenbrunner said. "We talked about top-six and bottom-six forwards, and that's pretty universal, and we understand what our role is going to be by what line you are put on, and it gives you a feeling that you can start visualizing playing with those guys a little bit. You know from playing in the League what certain guys do and how they play and what they bring to a team and you see how you can adapt your game to them."
Even the defensemen got into the act.
Jack Johnson said Sunday that he will be paired with Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, who was named as an injury replacement last week. In fact, Wilson had to rearrange his defensive pairings extensively after both Paul Martin and Mike Komisarek were ruled out of the Games because of injury.
"I think he and I would make a great pair," Johnson said. "I think he is a phenomenal player -- hard to play against. I think as a pair, we make a difficult pair to play against."
Wilson will run the players through a 75-minute practice Monday -- the only on-ice session before Tuesday's noon start against the Swiss -- and then he will let the players steer the ship for the most part as they try to navigate through the three games of pool play this week.
"When you do play in a short tournament you actually simplify everything and you find out usually that's the way you should coach in the NHL too," Wilson said.