2014 Olympics: USA Hockey turns to David Poile, Dan Bylsma for Sochi

“We’ve reached a point in our country where winning gold medals is not a miracle, it’s an expectation,” USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio said as he looked out from a podium in New York City Saturday morning.

SochiWith those expectations, USA Hockey has turned to David Poile and Dan Bylsma to lead the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Poile was revealed as the team’s general manager Friday, while Bylsma was formally introduced during Saturday’s press conference.

This is all contingent on an agreement between the NHL and IOC to allow NHL players to participate in the Olympics, but all signs to that being completed Monday.

Both Poile and Bylsma are keenly aware of the responsibility that has been handed to them.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Poile said upon being introduced. “It’s been a privilege to be a part of USA Hockey, but this is ultimate honor and challenge.”

“We certainly have one objective, and that’s to go to Sochi and win gold,” said Bylsma. “We’re ready for the challenge and excited for opportunity.”

Poile said in selecting Bylsma, USA Hockey’s advisory group, wanted to make sure Team USA’s coach was one of the very best in the NHL and Bylsma has proven that.

“We wanted a winner, someone who can handle star players, someone who had passion for USA Hockey and we found our man,” Poile explained.

Bylsma understands the gravity of his job, and while aware he doesn’t have much international experience, he expressed his gratitude to those that came before him.

“I’m joining 17 previous head coaches and what a responsibility,” he said. “I feel the legacy that runs through Pittsburgh with Badger Bob Johnson and Herb Brooks.”

This job comes with quite a bit of pressure and exposure, but Bylsma seemed undaunted by it. More than anything, the Penguins head coach appeared humbled and ready for the opportunity.

Now that the management team is known for Team USA, the focus becomes building a group that has the ability to win gold in Sochi. The player pool will be incredibly deep, which is going to make for some tough decisions when it comes to select the final roster.

First up, Poile along with associate general manager Ray Shero, director of player personnel Brian Burke and USA Hockey’s advisory group, will have to finalize the orientation camp roster to begin the evaluation process in earnest.

USA Hockey says it will hold its orientation camp August 25-29 in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Capitals practice facility. Though the number of players that will be invited hasn’t been revealed, USA Hockey brought in 34 for its 2010 orientation camp. Considering rosters will be bigger in 2014, with 25 players instead of 23, I’d imagine a few more may be invited this time around. Those two extra roster spots offer a lot more flexibility than you’d think.

Stray Thoughts from Today’s Announcement…

– Poile explained that the advisory team has identified a core group of players from 2010 that they plan to build around. Poile also said that a player’s body of work will be considered, but how that player is playing in the first half of the season will weigh heavily in the decision.

It’s an interesting philosophy to have, but is one that may have success because the U.S. has such a strong core of players that likely includes Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, among others. Having guys you know you can lean on allows some more flexibility and might lead Poile to take a chance on a guy whose track record isn’t as long as others, but is playing at a high level at that time.

Where I think there’s valid concern is that Poile says they could go with the hot hand in net based on half a season. If that happens to be anyone other than Jonathan Quick, who has a ton of experience and success in pressure-packed situations, that could make for an interesting decision.

That said, the U.S. pool is loaded with talent. It’s not at the depth of some other countries, but what is available to Poile and Bylsma is probably better than what was afforded Burke in 2010.

– There wasn’t a lot of revealing info in terms of how Bylsma expects to run his team, but he said he’s been studying up on the international game and I’d expect he’ll have a pretty seasoned support staff at his disposal. Despite the inexperience, however, Bylsma’s style certainly could work on international ice really well.

– The fact that this tournament will be played on a bigger ice surface is also weighing heavily on all parties among USA’s brass. Poile pointed out the lack of success in tournaments outside of North America at the Olympics for Team USA as well. Having that in mind could be a good or bad thing.

The U.S. staff will have to be careful of over-correcting for the ice size. The hallmarks of U.S. national teams have always been speed and aggressiveness. That won’t change, but it is important to remember that no matte the size of the ice, the game is still won and lost between the faceoff dots.

Knowing that, the U.S. can’t skew completely towards skill players and I don’t think they will. This team will still need some size, but more than anything else, it’s going to need smart players. Mistakes are magnified on the big ice, particularly in transition. So puck protection and positioning are going to be key factors for every team.

– Poile said there is already a leadership group in place among the core players and captains are likely to be selected from that group. Both he and Bylsma will be talking to those players regularly before making a decision on who will wear the letters.

– Poile has a quality lieutenant in Shero. The Penguins general manager spent eight years working with Poile in Nashville and that type of working relationship is going to be a huge benefit. Additionally, Poile was Burke’s assistant GM for Vancouver, so there’s much mutual respect among the three men tabbed to make the key decisions.

Poile explained that all of them probably already have an idea of what their team looks like individually, but that they will come together to discuss their thoughts along with USA Hockey’s advisory group which includes USA Hockey’s Jim Johannson, Paul Holmgren, Dean Lombardi, Don Waddell, Dale Tallon and Stan Bowman. It’s going to be a very collective effort to build this team, and that’s another big plus for USA Hockey to have so many smart folks working together.

Shero said, “When we come together, we won’t be working for the Blackhawks or the Flyers or the Panthers or the Penguins, we’ll be working for USA Hockey.”

It might look like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, but with the power structure established, the final decisions very much belong to Poile.

– It also helps that Shero and Bylsma have a close relationship and familiarity with each other. It should work well for the communication of ideas back and forth between the coach and the management group.

– Lastly, I really liked this quote from David Poile on taking the job:

“It’s taken a whole lot of people to get us where we are today. For those of us that are lucky enough to travel to Sochi, we’re going to represent all those people. From the rink managers, to the volunteer coaches, to the hockey moms and dads, to the hundreds of thousands of kids that are playing hockey in so many new and different locations. The growth of USA Hockey has been fantastic.”

At its heart, USA Hockey is a non-profit organization full of volunteers and people that love the game. One of its most visible jobs is putting together these Olympic teams. It is very refreshing to see that Poile understands the role this team plays in the grand scheme of what the organization does.

Every person involved in the team has gotten to where they are because of people who shared their passion of the game with them. This may just be a hockey team, but it’s one that is the culmination of years and years of work from coaches, teammates, parents and volunteers. That’s what makes it so special.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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