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U.S. names Ron Wilson coach for 2016 World Juniors

by Evan Sporer

Ron Wilson was named coach of the 2016 United States National Junior Team on Thursday.

The 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Helsinki, Finland. The United States has won a medal at the World Juniors in four of the past seven years, including gold in 2010 and 2013.

"There's been a few opportunities for me to jump in, but I never thought I was really ready," Wilson said. "After this year's World Championships, I started to think, 'Jeez, why wouldn't I want to be the coach of the U.S. World Junior National Team?' I think it would be a great experience, the only experience I haven't had in hockey."

Wilson has coached United States at a number of tournaments, most notably at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, when he led the U.S. to the gold medal. He also coached the bronze medal-winning team at the IIHF World Championship that year.

Wilson coached the United States at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, losing to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. He led the U.S. to the silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics; a 3-2 overtime loss to Canada in the gold-medal game was the United States' lone defeat in the tournament.

"Ron obviously has a wonderful hockey resume across the board as a player and as a coach, but from USA Hockey's standpoint has arguably the most international experience of any coach that we've had," said Jim Johannson, general manager of the 2016 junior team and assistant executive director for hockey operations. "He's also a guy that I think understands the short tournaments of the IIHF, and the exciting part for me is working with Ron again."

Wilson's last NHL coaching experience came for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012. He coached the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Washington Capitals and the San Jose Sharks. His NHL record is 648-561-91, with 101 ties.

Wilson said he's spent the time since being let go by the Maple Leafs watching hockey, staying familiar with the game and in what directions it's trending.

"To get back, the itch has been there for about a year and a half. It's really hard when you've been out for as long as I have to get your foot back in the door," Wilson said. "Everybody thinks you've lost your sense of coaching in a year. I'm here to show that's not true.

"The biggest changes I've seen in the game is it doesn't matter how big you are now, it's how fast you are. That's what the teams playing for the Stanley Cup this year, they're two of the least physical teams in the NHL."

Wilson said he will spend the next few months reviewing video of eligible players; there are 12 who played in the 2015 tournament. But Wilson said he doesn't know any players on the team, which will make the evaluation camps and processes wide open.

"I do know that everybody says, and I know this: That USA Hockey players have come a long way from when I started to where it is today," Wilson said. "You've got a lot of draft picks. USA Hockey is the hotbed for hockey players now. Maybe not on par with Canada quite yet, but we're right up there. When you look at the names that are out there that are going to be first-round selections this year or next year, it's really exciting. I look forward to introducing myself and getting to know them."

Wilson is the first United States National Junior Team coach to have coached in the NHL, and he joins Lou Vairo as the only National Junior Team coaches to have coached the men's Olympic and national teams.

The United States is in a preliminary-round group for the 2016 World Junior Championship with Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Headlining the expected group of players for the United States is forward Auston Matthews, who many project will be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

USA Hockey expects to name the rest of the coaching staff later this month, Johannson said.


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