Stan’s The Man

Chicago Blackhawks GM Excited To Team Up With Three-Time Olympian Bill Guerin To Plot A Course Toward Beijing

During his 18 NHL seasons, three Olympic appearances and two World Cup runs, Bill Guerin was an integral part of what has been called "the greatest generation" of American hockey players.

In his new role as the assistant general manager with the 2022 U.S. Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Team, Guerin will team up general manager Stan Bowman to select the next generation of American stars to compete for gold in Beijing.

And given the deep pool of American talent to choose from, there won't be many easy decisions.

"It's going to be a great challenge and something that I'm looking forward to. We've got the deepest pool of players that we ever have," said Guerin, who is in his second season as the GM of the Minnesota Wild.

Just as Guerin and company were inspired by the heroics of the "Miracle on Ice" team in 1980, the current crop of young American stars saw their own dreams take flight thanks to a U.S. victory at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and a silver medal run at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Even though he was only 6 years old at the time, Bowman said sitting on his grandmother's lap and watching the U.S. beat Russia in Lake Placid, N.Y., is one of his earliest hockey memories.

"At the time, I was excited but I thought it was just another game or another tournament. I really didn't appreciate the backdrop and the significance of that victory until I was a lot older," said the son of legendary coach Scotty Bowman.

"Over time, I've come to see the context of that team in 1980 and what it really meant for hockey development across the United States. And here we are 40 some-odd years later and we've seen the tremendous growth of our sport."

That growth has ushered in a new generation of American stars into the NHL, including Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, John Gibson and Brock Boeser, all of whom missed an opportunity to compete in the 2018 Games when the NHL took a hiatus from the Olympic ice.

While all signs point to a thawing of the issues that kept the NHL players home four years ago, there are still some details to be worked out before they can pack their bags for Beijing.

This may be Bowman's first chance to step into the Olympic spotlight, but he is no rookie when it comes to helping the American players prepare for international competition. He has served on U.S. Men's National Team Advisory Group since 2012 to help select players and staff for U.S. Men's National and Olympic Teams. In addition, he was part of the management for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which included a number of American stars who will dress in red, white and blue this time around.

"Bill and I are obviously in prominent roles, but it's not a two-man show," said Bowman, who has guided the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in his 19 seasons with the organization. "There's going to be a lot of input from others. I look forward to collaborating with a lot of smart people."                      

They can use all the brain power they can get as they grapple with the tough decisions that lie ahead. There are currently more than 200 Americans competing on NHL clubs right now, with many of them in starring roles. Having that wealth of riches will certainly leave some very talented players on the sidelines, but Bowman and Guerin are looking forward to the challenge.

"As Bill mentioned, we've got a very deep pool and I think that's a great situation to be in," Bowman said. "There's certainly going to be some challenges trying to decide who is ultimately part of the team, but that's what makes it so much fun is when you have a lot of talented players it makes the conversations and discussions fun to have."

Creating a team to take on the world is about more than just a collection of the top 23 players. It's about finding players who are willing to fill a role many do not play on the current NHL team.

"There definitely has to be a buy-in factor," said Guerin, who can lean on his previous Olympic experience to help find the right mix of players that need to mesh quickly prior to the puck drop.

"The tricky thing is that everybody that's going to be on this team is going to be a star on their current NHL team. You have to assume roles and it's our job and the coach's job to keep everybody happy and make sure that there's great buy in."

Many of these current NHL stars have waited a long time to shine on the Olympic stage. There will be no shortage of expectations for them to do what their predecessors failed to do by taking the final step to the top of the medals podium. As Bowman stressed, now is not the time to dwell on the shortcomings of the past but put themselves in a position to succeed in the future. And he feels like he has the team to get it done.

"We're looking ahead and not so much back," he said. "You can talk about pressure or you can look at it as a great opportunity. That's how I choose to look at it. This is something that's exciting to be part of.

"We are excited that some of these players who haven't had a chance to participate in the past will now be able to. I look at it as a positive. Expectations are great. We know it's a challenge and we're ready to roll our sleeves up and get to work."

 

Issue: 
2021-04

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