Encouraged by what he saw from his young charges, U.S. National and Olympic Team head coach Ron Wilson found a silver lining to his team’s performance at the 2009 IIHF World Championship, even if that was the only precious metal associated with the event.
After earning a spot in the semifinals, thanks to a spirited effort against Finland in the quarterfinals, the U.S. lost a pair of heartbreakers, first to Russia (3-2) in the final two minutes, and then to Sweden (4-2) in the bronze-medal game.
“I thought our young team deserved a little better fate in the tournament,” said Wilson. “We’re disappointed as we came here to win a medal, but our guys left it all out on the ice, and that’s all you can ask.”
Despite the loss, the U.S. moved up to fifth in the world rankings.
The U.S. team was in search of its fourth bronze medal at the World Championships. The first three came in 1962, 1996 (also when coached by Wilson), and 2004.
The U.S. squad came to Berne, Switzerland with one of the youngest teams in the tournament, averaging 24.80 years of age, and with several questions, especially in goal. But journeyman netminder Robert Esche, who spent the season staring down Russian shooters in the Kontinental Hockey League, proved he is deserving of another shot in the NHL. His .891 save percentage and a 3.12 goals-against average doesn’t tell the whole story. He stood tall when he had to, weathering the Finnish onslaught early on in the quarterfinal game until the U.S. scorers found their aim.
The Americans opened the tournament with wins against Latvia (4-2) and Austria (6-1) before falling to Sweden, 6-5, in overtime. Despite winning only one of its three games in the qualification round, the U.S. punched its ticket to the quarterfinals, where Esche stood strong with a 47-save performance.
“We got unbelievable goaltending, especially in the first period when we needed it most,” said Wilson.
Offensively the U.S. squad was led by its blueline corps, including John-Michael Liles (1 goal, 8 assists), Jack Johnson (5 goals, 2 assists) and Ron Hainsey (2 goals, 4 assists). Up front, team captain Dustin Brown provided the spark with his aggressive play and timely contributions (3 goals, 5 assists).
Wilson said the tournament was a learning experience about European hockey for himself and the U.S. team nine months before the Olympics tournament in Vancouver.
“My focus is entirely on the Olympics Games. I have a couple of young assistants who are capable,” Wilson said. “With NHL referees at the Olympic Games, it’s exactly what the best players in the league need.”
Olympic Roster Deadline
The IIHF Congress determined that teams participating in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will have to name their men's rosters no later than Dec. 31, 2009.
Each team is permitted to register and enter a maximum of 20 players and three goaltenders into the Olympics tournament. No additional players can be added to the rosters once the maximum number of players is entered.
The Men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament is set to start on Feb. 16, with the United States taking on Switzerland. The gold-medal game will take place on Feb. 28, the final day of the Olympics.
As part of its preparation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, USA Hockey will stage an Olympic Orientation Camp Aug. 17-19 at the Seven Bridges Arena in Woodbridge, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
Women’s U18 To Be Contested On U.S. Soil
The U.S. Women’s Under 18 Team will go for the threepeat on home soil as USA Hockey was selected to host the 2010 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship by the IIHF Council in Berne, Switzerland.
The tentative dates for the championship are March 27-April 3. USA Hockey will announce a host for the 2010 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship in the coming months.
The event, which was first staged in 2008, includes eight teams. The U.S. has won the gold medal at the first two championships.
USA Hockey is coming off hosting the highly successful 2009 IIHF World Men’s U18 Championship in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.
The World Under 20 Championship will be held in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2011 and the World Women’s Championship will be held on U.S. soil in 2012.
COACH OF THE MONTH
Meghan Hishmeh is more than just your average hockey mom. While her three sons are at hockey practice, so is she, but not as a concerned parent. She is the coach of the Peewee B New Jersey Bandits, leading the team to an undefeated record this season.
Prior to working with the Bandits, she was the head coach of the Princeton Day School Girls’ Varsity team, leading them to a state title in 2000.
A former three-year captain at the University of Vermont, Hishmeh has been a
USA Hockey official for nine seasons, and has worked at the IIHF Women’s World Championships for the past two years.
While involved in all facets of the game, Hishmeh is more than just a coach or a referee. She is a teacher, stressing good grades and smart hockey, bringing out the best in each player.