After paying his dues as a player and assistant coach at the international level, Joe Sacco will finally get an opportunity to lead the charge for Team USA.
Sacco, the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, was named the head coach of the 2013 U.S. Men's National Team that will hit the ice during the IIHF World Championship on May 3-19 in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden.
"It's always an honor to be able to represent your country in any manner," Sacco said following Colorado's 4-3 overtime loss Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. "I was able to do it as a player a few times and now as a coach. It's an honor. I am thrilled they asked me."
The 13-year NHL veteran was a part of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team that placed fourth in Albertville, France. He also played in six IIHF World Championships and was a member of the U.S. Men's National Select Team in 2002. He also skated at the 1989 IIHF World Junior Championships.
The Medford, Mass. native was a fourth-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, and finished his NHL career with 94 goals and 119 assists while playing for five different teams.
Now in his fourth-year behind the Avalanche bench, Sacco has coached at the international level, serving as an assistant coach on the 2009 (fourth place) and 2010 (13th place) IIHF World Championship teams.
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson played for Sacco on both World Championship teams and believes his demanding coaching style will be a good fit for Team USA.
"He is a great coach and I'm sure he will do a great job there," Johnson said. "He is demanding, very businesslike when he is at the rink. He gets down to business very quick."
Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations for USA Hockey Jim Johannson said Sacco's background as a player and coach at the World Championship was a key factor in his selection.
"He has coached at the tournament a few times and has played in the tournament so he obviously has a real good understanding of what the World Championship is," said Johannson, who was Sacco's teammate on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team.
"Both sides of it. What the players have gone through to get to that point and also from a coaching standpoint he's got the experience of seeing how they need to handle that tournament."
Johannson believes Sacco has the coaching pedigree to succeed in a tournament that is so much more about letting the players find their identity as a team rather than micromanaging.
"He is demanding but fair," Johannson said. "He is kind of in the trenches with the players and they sense that. He is a guy that knows you can only go to the whip so many times. Joe understands you can't over-coach these guys in a short setting."
Before arriving in the Mile High City, Sacco coached the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League for two seasons and also was an assistant coach for the Albany River Rats (2006-07) and Lowell Lock Monsters (2005-06).
Despite struggling this year, Sacco has had success at the NHL level in Colorado. During his first season behind the bench Sacco was a Jack Adams Award finalist for the NHL's coach of the year award after the Avs finished the season 43-30-9 and reached the postseason.
Like any coach, Sacco would prefer to have his team in the playoff hunt but is excited for the challenge of leading Team USA.
"I rather be coaching here in the playoffs, but that's not the position we're in right now," Sacco said. "But I am excited about the opportunity USA Hockey has given me and look forward to it."