Mark Osiecki has been named head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, USA Hockey announced today. The former Ohio State head coach has been an assistant on each of the last three medal-winning U.S. National Junior Teams including the golden entries in 2010 and 2013 and the 2011 bronze medalist.
Osiecki is currently an assistant coach with the Rockford IceHogs, American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Prior to that, he spent three seasons as the head coach at the Ohio State University from 2010-2013. He was shockingly let go after building substantial momentum for the program in his three years there, for reasons that have remained unclear. It sent shockwaves through the college hockey community, but Osiecki landed on his feet well with Rockford.
From 2004-10, Osiecki served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Wiconsin, helping the team to the 2006 NCAA national championship and developing a reputation as an expert recruiter. Osiecki also was a head coach in the United States Hockey League for seven years with the Green Bay Gamblers. He led the team to the Clark Cup in 2000.
In a lot of ways, Osiecki has been groomed for this job, having served as an assistant coach for three different head coaches, all of which brought home a medal of some color including two of the three world titles owned by the U.S. at the World Junior Championship. Additionally, Osiecki worked closely at Wisconsin with head coach Mike Eaves, who guided Team USA to its first ever WJC gold in 2004.
Osiecki’s international resume is long with stints at other events like the Ivan Hlinka and Men’s World Championships.
In speaking about that prior experience, general manager Jim Johannson expounded on Osiecki’s reputation and the impact he made in those earlier tournaments as an assistant coach.
“In being involved in this junior process for a while, it became a very obvious choice to make things work and have Mark coach this team,” Johannson said. “In my initial discussions with our previous head coaches [Dean Blais, Keith Allain and Phil Housley], the first thing they all said is ‘I gotta have Ozzy on the staff.’”
Osiecki noted he was humbled by the experience and plans to take things out of what made each of the head coaches he’s worked closely with successful including Eaves, who he spent the most time with as a coach.
“I spent a great amount of time with Mike Eaves, talking to him about USA Hockey,” Team USA’s new coach said. “To be able to work with someone like that who won the first World Junior gold medal, that experience with him and understanding his thought process [from 2004] is going to help me tremendously.”
He also noted that each coach was different, but that there was one common thread in all three previous junior teams he worked on.
“The one thing that was very common was making sure all the puzzle pieces fit together,” Osiecki explained. “Working with Mike longer than anyone else there, you take a look at what he did with his staff. He made sure all of his sources were utilized and it wasn’t just one person’s opinion.”
Having a coach with World Junior experience is important, but having a good staff, as Osiecki proved as an assistant coach on three medal teams is a huge factor in the team’s success as well.
Osiecki heaped praise on the group he’ll have with him noting it mixes familiarity with expertise, which is an important piece.
Osiecki will be joined on the bench by Don Granato, a former Wisconsin teammate of Osiecki’s and one of two head coaches at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. He led the U.S. National Under-18 Team to the silver medal at last year’s World Under-18 Championship and guided the U.S. National Under-17 Team to the World Under-17 Challenge title in January.
Kevin Patrick will also serve as an assistant coach. The current University of Vermont assistant coach was with Osiecki at Wisconsin from 2005-10 as the other assistant for the Badgers. He left UW to become head coach of the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, a position he held for two seasons.
Mike Ayers will also be with the club as an assistant coach, primarily working with the team’s goaltenders. Ayers, a former standout at the University of New Hampshire, was USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach for two seasons before joining Boston College as an assistant coach this year. He was on staff for the last two U.S. National Under-18 Teams and was part of the staff for the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge winners.
Chris Nightingale will serve as the team’s video coordinator, while former NHL GM Don Waddell will serve as a consultant for the team. As usual, Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations, will be the team’s general manager. He has served in that capacity for the last six tournaments.
When looking at this staff with Osiecki at the helm, USA Hockey is going big on international experience, and particularly experience at the U20 level. Osiecki knows the ins and outs of the World Juniors and has seen three very different teams while there.
His staff is full of familiar faces, but there’s a lot of experience there as well.
Last year, as Team USA finished a disappointing fifth at the WJC, the staff had a lot of coaching experience, but not a lot on the international stage. This will be the opposite.
Osiecki has also seen what it takes to win in the tough environment in Canada, with this year’s WJC held between Toronto and Montreal. Hostile sold out buildings? He’s seen them and he’s seen U.S. teams win in them.
This job won’t be like the others though. Team USA is going to have some depth issues more than likely this year. They have some serious talent, but there won’t be some of the game-breaking players they’ve had in years past.
There will be a lot of good returning players and a host of new ones to sort through.
Another reason this is a solid hire for USAH, Osiecki has a good record as an evaluator. It’s shown in his recruiting at his last two college jobs and his ability to build winners from his USHL days. Evaluation is just as important as the coaching. You have to have the right pieces. A wrong decision at the wrong position can throw the whole thing off.
That’s also an area in which Granato can prove helpful. He coached the 1995 birth years at the NTDP last year and will have a very good handle on the class with many of his own guys from last year likely claiming significant roles on the team. So that’s just an added bonus.
Having input on player selection is always part of the coach’s job. Having been through the process so many times before, Osiecki is going to know what he’ll need to have success. It makes the eval process that much smoother.
The one issue is that Osiecki’s future for his full-time job may be in flux next season. He is still an assistant with the IceHogs, but should be a candidate for the open college hockey jobs out there and was a rising star in the coaching community before his surprise ouster at Ohio State.
If he remains at Rockford, it will be interesting to see how much the pro schedule will allow him to see college and junior games as head coaches often take the time to do when they have time. He’ll be able to get a good handle on things at the summer camp and Johannson always keeps an open line with his coaches to keep them updated on progress of players.
Osiecki doesn’t see that as a disadvantage, however, noting that previous coaches haven’t had enough time to watch a lot of players individually with their own schedules and viewing a player from the bench during the game doesn’t afford for great evaluation time. He noted that the entire staff will be involved in watching players.
Osiecki does know this group well enough from recruiting them in his college days and will get more familiar with them at camp, but he likes the looks of the player pool.
“You look at the returners [from 2014] and there’s a big piece of the puzzle that’s already there,” he said.
Among the eligible returnees are Jack Eichel, Will Butcher, Steven Santini, Ian McCoshen, Adam Erne, Hudson Fasching and Thatcher Demko. Among the late cuts from camp that should be in the mix this year are Anthony DeAngelo, J.T. Compher and Tyler Motte, as well. So there is a good solid base to start with.
The head coach said he will focus building a team that includes good leadership and disciplined players. He spoke about the importance of staying disciplined within the system the coaches institute as a key to success, like in 2010 and 2013.
It seems you’ll be able to see a lot of similarities with how the 2010 team was constructed with the tournament being held on NHL ice instead of the wider European surfaces. There will still be an emphasis on speed and skill, but the U.S. probably could use some added size and physicality, too.
The World Junior Championship is a funny tournament. Anything can happen. Throw it on Canadian soil and you’ve got a real challenge, especially with a New Year’s Eve date with Canada already set in stone.
Osiecki said he looks forward to embracing that challenge, like the team did in Saskatoon in 2010.
With the experience USA Hockey has on its staff and the player pool it has to choose from, Team USA is in a good position to start. There’s a long process left to go to get to December, but they’ve made extremely sound choices here heading into it.
The next step will be the announcement of the team’s summer evaluation camp roster, which should be named in June. The camp will be held as always in Lake Placid, N.Y., Aug. 2-9.