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IIHF Worlds: Richards prepping Team USA for opener vs. Finland

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Todd Richards had less than a week to decompress following the 2014-15 season before his plate got full again – but he couldn’t have been happier about it.

It was a pretty quick acceptance by Richards when USA Hockey asked him to be head coach of the American team at the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championship (which begins Friday in the Czech Republic), but it also meant some serious cramming to get things in order before heading overseas with the team.

Along with assistant coaches Dan Bylsma and Greg Carvel, Richards had to come up with a practice plan and systematic plan for a team that didn’t have a complete roster until about a week ago (and has added more players in the past 48 hours).

They landed, got settled in Vienna – where they spent a couple of days before heading to their group’s “base” in Ostrava, about three hours from Prague – and played an exhibition game against Austria. It was a whirlwind, no doubt about it, and all things considered, Team USA’s 4-1 win over Austria produced more positives than negatives.

“We won, so we did some good things,” Richards said. “When you look at it, it was our first time playing together. We had two practices, played a game…that’s not easy, especially (after) traveling over.

“There were some things I liked about the game and some things we need to get better at it. It’s a good way to start it off, but now we have to get ready for the tournament.”

[HUB] Follow the Blue Jackets at the 2015 IIHF World Championships

The final score wasn’t quite indicative of how the game played out, either: Austria had the U.S. in a 1-1 deadlock through two periods and gave the Americans a tough, tight-checking game with very few mistakes. Team USA’s power play came through and they had a strong third period, but the Americans have a ways to go before opening the tournament tomorrow.

It will be a test right out of the gate, too, facing Finland to open (10:15 a.m. ET, live on NBC Sports Network), then Norway on Saturday and defending champion Russia on Monday.

And when you play in a short tournament, there can be no wasted days; the team that improves and gels the quickest and has all hands on deck usually gets the best results.

“That’s the challenge when you come over and play in these tournaments,” Richards said. “You’re taking a lot of different pieces from different places, trying to throw them together and seeing what works.

“We have to play harder, we have to work harder. Our systematic play was too loose, but you can understand that, too. It hasn’t been easy. You’re still adjusting, and then you’re thrown right into a game. We can use (the exhibition game vs. Austria), use the video from it, teach and get better. There were some good things that we did. Some if it is developing some chemistry and understanding of what we want to do out on the ice.”

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