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Northeast: Team USA wise to select Wilson

by John McGourty
The three greatest achievements in American hockey history are the Olympic gold medals of 1960 and 1980, and the win in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

The coaches of those first two teams, Jack Riley and Herb Brooks, are deceased. But the architect of the 1996 victory, Ron Wilson, is very much alive and coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs.

USA Hockey has again named Wilson to coach Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Wilson will also coach the team at the IIHF World Championships from April 24 to May 10 in Switzerland.

Wilson's Toronto boss, Brian Burke, had already been named Team USA's general manager. The two men played together at Providence College in 1973-74, when Wilson was the team's leading scorer as a defenseman and was twice named an All-American. In an amazing coincidence, their Providence teammate, Bob Nicholson, is now the director of Hockey Canada, with overall responsibility for fielding the Canadian team that will oppose Burke and Wilson.

Their coach was Lou Lamoriello, now the President, CEO and general manager of the New Jersey Devils. Lamoriello was also Wilson's boss in 1996 when he was the general manager of the Americans' World Cup team.

Wilson is as mainstream and ingrained in American hockey as possible, especially for someone born in Windsor, Canada. He holds dual citizenship. Wilson's dad, Larry, was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning 1950 Detroit Red Wings. Larry Wilson became coach of the AHL Providence Reds in 1970 and Ronnie Wilson became a big star at East Providence High and then at Providence College, where he remains the school's all-time leading scorer. His 250 points remains the NCAA record for college defensemen. His 87 points in 1974-75 led the nation in scoring.

Wilson also coached Team USA at the 1998 Winter Olympics and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. He played on five American teams in international competition. Wilson played in 177 NHL games and he also played seven years in the top Swiss league.

"USA Hockey and Ron Wilson have had a relationship for more than 30 years, dating back to his days as a player," said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey. "He's been successful wherever he's been, and we have every confidence in his abilities."

Since 1980, Russia, Canada, Sweden (twice) and the Czech Republic have won Olympic gold but Wilson and Burke displayed like minds in their Olympic focus.

"I think the gold medal runs right through Canada," Wilson said. "We've never been intimidated by playing in Canada with Team USA. In '96, we had to win two games in Montreal, and that ranks right up there in my career in terms of having fought with a group of people and meeting that type of a challenge. It's going to be a very tough environment to win in Vancouver, but I'm confident that our players are going to be up to it."

"The talent pool available to Team USA is deeper than it's ever been," Burke said last year when he was named GM. "It used to be where the U.S. would make noise every 20 years. Now we're starting to make noise in tournaments with greater frequency. We've got skill and depth at every skating position. We're not going there for any reason other than to win the gold medal."

Both men have said the U.S. roster will be much younger than in years past. Wilson identified one likely player after a game against Lamoriello's Devils -- Zach Parise, the NHL's third-leading goal scorer.

 "A lot of people have said this year that he's one of the top players in the league right now," Wilson told the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley. "He's got a real hunger, a real drive for the net. He doesn't appear to be a really big guy yet he goes to the net as hard as any forward I know in the game.
"We're going to have a young team, we're going to have an aggressive team. We want to play an attacking style," Wilson said.

Too good to be interim -- Fulfilling the expectations of those who remembered him as an intense star player for the University of Alberta Golden Bears, Cory Clouston, 39, has coached the Ottawa Senators to a 19-10-4 record since he was promoted from Binghamton on Feb. 2. The Senators have been an aggressive, increasingly cohesive unit under Clouston's guidance.

So, on Wednesday, the Senators announced they had removed the "interim" tag from Clouston's title by signing him to a two-year contract. Clouston was in his second season as coach at Binghamton after spending five seasons as coach of the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, where he was WHL coach of the year in 2006-07. He was also coach for the gold-medal-winning Canadian Under-18 team in 2006.


"A lot of people get skeptical when you hire a rookie coach and throw him into the fire and say, 'Try and fix something that's wrong,' and it speaks to character when somebody steps up and says, 'I will do it,'" Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said.

"I look at the dedication our players have given in the last 30-plus games," Clouston said. "They deserve credit. They're the ones working hard, battling every night and they're the ones who were under scrutiny more than anyone, really. I think the true colors of this team have shown in the last (32) games and I think the future is bright."

Thomas is a keeper -- Good things can happen when you lead the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas proved that last week when he signed a four-year, $20 million contract extension. The 35-year-old has a no-trade clause for the first three years (which has to have AHL Providence Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask shaking his head).

It's been a long road that wound through his native Michigan, Vermont, Alabama, Finland, Sweden and Texas but it was worth it, Thomas said.

"In hindsight, I'd have to say everything worked out perfectly," he said. "Here I am in a great hockey town and in a great situation. I'm looking forward to the next four years, playing in that hockey town and for that organization. I'd have to say everything worked out as it should have."

Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said he signed Thomas because he believes the netminder is still getting better.

"I've seen somebody who's improved," Chiarelli said. "He's at such a high level right now. But he's improved at this age each year. He's improved a lot. He's gone from a high level to a higher level to a higher level, and he's maintained that. It's taken him a while to get here. He's gotten here and he's been tremendously successful.

"But he's still improving. I feel he's got a lot of hockey ahead of him. He hasn't had a lot of hockey behind him, NHL speaking."

A grand career -- Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Brad May played in his 1,000th NHL game Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres, who made him their first-round pick in the 1990 Entry Draft. The Maple Leafs held May out of Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Devils at New Jersey.

It was a classy move to allow May, a 37-year-old Toronto native, to play his 1,000th game in front of his family and his huge group of friends. That's no exaggeration, May's hard work on behalf of charities and his sunny disposition draws people to him.

May has only 1 goal and 1 assist in his 36 games since GM Burke acquired him from their former team, the Anaheim Ducks, on Jan. 7. May's role in Toronto was two-fold: Help keep spirits high on a team going through a rebuilding season and to protect his young teammates.

May told the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornsby that he's had four shoulder operations and several knee injuries.

"He told me that one day he will wallpaper his house with all the X-rays he's had taken in his career," rookie defenseman Luke Schenn said.

The team plans to play Buffalo announcer Rick Jeanneret's famous "May Day, May Day, May Day," call from 1993, when May's goal eliminated the favored Bruins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

May wants to play another season, but it's unlikely he will be back with the Maple Leafs. If he can't find another team to play for, it's been reported that Burke will offer him a job in the organization. May became the 243rd NHLer to play in 1,000 or more games.

News and Notes -- Boston's Phil Kessel, the team's leading goal scorer, missed five games with an injury but returned with a goal Tuesday against Ottawa in the Bruins' 3-2 loss. That game followed the Bruins' 1-0 victory over the Rangers last Saturday that clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston coach Julien called the team's effort against Ottawa "a hangover" ... Representatives of 10 different groups have registered to make bids to buy the Montreal Canadiens ... The Rangers moved within a point of the Canadiens on Tuesday with their 3-1 victory. The Canadiens currently hold the seventh seed in the East. ...  The Sabres entered the final week of the season having to win their last three games and the Rangers and Panthers have to lose their last two games for Buffalo to qualify for the playoffs ... Boston's Blake Wheeler has 21 goals, one more than Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski in the Northeast Division's race for leading rookie goal scorer. Wheeler is tied for fourth among NHL rookies.

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