Mike Sullivan had been set to coach Team USA at the 2022 Winter Olympics before the NHL pulled out of the tournament after COVID-related events substantially disrupted the regular-season schedule.

While the staff knew that was a possibility, the outcome was incredibly disappointing, as they were deep in the process of putting together a game plan and were just ecstatic about the opportunity.

Fortunately, Sullivan is getting another one, as he was named head coach of the 2026 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, which will be held Feb. 6-22, 2026, in Milan, Italy. Sullivan will also be behind the bench for Team USA at the 2025 NHL 4 Nations Face-Off, which will be held Feb. 12-20, 2025, in two yet-to-be-named North American cities.

“To have this opportunity once again, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment. These types of opportunities don't come around a lot,” Sullivan said. “There are a lot of really good people that are involved in hockey and could have been selected to be the head coach of this team, and the United States would be in great hands with those people. I just have so much respect for the people involved with hockey and how smart they are.

“So, the fact that (GM) Billy Guerin and (assistant executive director of hockey operations) John Vanbiesbrouck and USA Hockey have entrusted me with this role as the head coach is just an incredible honor. I'm going to do everything in my power to try to help us have success.”

Sullivan has a great relationship with Guerin, who spent several years in hockey operations with Pittsburgh after retiring as a Penguin in 2010. They helped the franchise win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and ‘17 before Guerin left in 2019 after being named GM of the Minnesota Wild.

Once Sullivan hung up the phone following their conversation about this job and had some time to process, “it was very similar emotions to the last time when (former Team USA GM) Stan Bowman called me and asked me to be the coach of the Olympic team. I just think it's humbling,” he said.

“Any time I've had an opportunity to represent the United States in different international events, I've always looked at it as an honor and a privilege, whether it be as a player or a coach, in whatever capacity. I think the Olympics are the pinnacle of all those international events… It's a privilege to coach in the NHL, right, and they're the best 700-something players in the world.

“When you start talking about the Olympics, now you're talking about a higher category or higher echelon of player, if that's even possible. So, now we're taking the very best of the best that are going to compete in an event like the Olympics, and to be a small part of that as a coach is such a privilege.”

This time around, there are no uncertainties. The league has committed to going, and NHL players will compete on the Olympic stage for the first time since the 2014 Games in Sochi. Considering the talent at his disposal, this prospect is absolutely thrilling for Sullivan. The player pool here in America is deep at every position, highlighted by Auston Matthews, the Tkachuk brothers, the Hughes brothers, and several strong options between the pipes.

“I think, in my lifetime, I've watched hockey grow and develop in the United States in so many ways,” Sullivan said. “Not just in some of the regions of the country like Massachusetts, where I grew up, where hockey is deeply embedded – but also in some of the nontraditional markets that I think the NHL and some of their marquee players have had an influence on in growing the game, like Arizona and California and Texas and Florida, for example.

“I think it's amazing to watch the sport grow, certainly in my lifetime. So, I think we're reaping the rewards of it right now, when you look at the prospects of what our U.S. Olympic team might look like.”

The preparation will be somewhat unique with the Four Nations Face-Off being held the year before, which should aid with the challenge of trying to pull a team together quickly. But overall, Sullivan’s approach to these opportunities with USA Hockey won’t stray far from his approach to coaching the Penguins.

“That's ultimately putting together an action plan to try to win, and that's what gets me excited,” Sullivan said. “Then certainly, taking it a step further and trying to inspire a group of players that are going to have the privilege to represent their country and do the same.”