LOS ANGELES — Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin were named general manager and assistant GM, respectively, of the U.S. men's hockey team for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. Both could be replaced, however, if NHL players don't compete in the hockey tournament.
The NHL paused its season to allow players to participate in five straight Olympic hockey tournaments, from 1998 through 2014. It did not halt play for the 2018 Games, so USA Hockey built its team around pros who were playing in Europe and a few college players. The NHL, NHL Players' Association, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation have not negotiated an agreement for NHL players to represent their homelands in Beijing, and talks have been slowed by the one-year postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.
"That does create some issues, that the International Olympic Committee has to remain focused on making sure everything gets set to go to Tokyo for the Summer Games first," Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, said in a webinar on Wednesday. Kelleher said he remains optimistic that NHL players will be allowed to participate and that "we are planning along that path."
If NHL players don't go and Bowman and Guerin are occupied with the concerns of their respective teams, "we will have to adjust accordingly," said John Vanbiesbrouck, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. "As far as this type of year, we know everything is fluid and on the table. So we will adjust and revisit at that time."
Plans currently call for the men's team to hold an orientation camp this summer for prospective Olympians and for the coach to be announced on or around New Year's Day of 2022. "We're early in the process. I don't anticipate anything in the near future," Bowman said of the coaching search. "We're looking for a coach with some NHL experience. ... We're going to have NHL players there so we're looking for a coach with NHL experience."
The U.S. women, who won Olympic gold in 2018 for the first time in 20 years, are scheduled to compete at the women's world championships May 6-16 in Nova Scotia, Canada. They will have a prospect camp this summer and will take up residency in Blaine, Minn., leading up to the Beijing Games. They're also expected to play a pre-Olympic tour and to announce their roster on or around New Year's Day. The Paralympic sled hockey team will be announced around that time, too.
The U.S. men's team has not won Olympic gold since 1980. In 2018 at Pyeonchang, South Korea, with no NHL players on the rosters of participating teams, the U.S. finished seventh. The team known as Olympic Athletes of Russia won gold, followed by Germany and Canada. The U.S. men were coached by Tony Granato, who coaches the University of Wisconsin's men's team.
Bowman and Guerin both said they were inspired to become involved in hockey by the gold-medal feats of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Bowman, son of Hall of Fame coach/executive Scotty Bowman, was 6 years old then and said he has a clear memory of watching the U.S. team's stunning triumphs while sitting on his grandmother's lap.
"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," he said. "Here we are, 40 some- odd years later and we've seen the tremendous growth of our sport. That's something exciting for me to see and be part of."
Guerin, a two-time Stanley Cup champion as a player and also a three-time Olympian, said watching the upstart Americans in 1980 motivated him in his own career. "It really lit a fire in me to want to do that someday if there was ever a chance I could be at the Olympics," he said.
Guerin said he and Bowman have begun conversations about how they'd like to build the roster. It's a pleasantly difficult problem, both men said, given the rise of the talent level among American players. "We've got the deepest pool of players that we ever have," Guerin said.
Bowman said he and Guerin and the U.S. advisory group have begun preliminary scouting of potential Olympians. The coach they choose also will have influence on the composition of the team. "I think what we're trying to do is build as much of a background file on each player, and certainly where they are now is relevant," Bowman said. "The tournament is 10 months from now so you want to look at how players are playing not only now but to start next year."