Wilson is game for U.S. Olympic challenges

Ron Wilson also will guide the U.S. team at the world championship in Switzerland, which will...

Ron Wilson also will guide the U.S. team at the world championship in Switzerland, which will provide him with an early opportunity to start scouting for Vancouver. (Greg Henkenhaf/Toronto Sun)

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- On the day he was announced as Maple Leafs coach, Ron Wilson made a point of flashing both his American and Canadian passports.

He's going to need them now more than ever.

But here's all you need to know about Wilson, who on Monday will be named the coach of the U.S. Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Games:

As much as he will relish the challenge of building up the blue-and-white Maple Leaf, he's just as game for stripping down the red-and-white version.

Along with his partner in crime, Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, the pair are a perfect fit for what will be the most scrutinized hockey tournament in the history of the sport.

Competitive and combative, they will thrive on the pressure and attention of the duel roles they will have in the months ahead, running "Canada's team" of the NHL while simultaneously trying to ruin Team Canada.

"It would be a tremendous honour," Wilson said yesterday while refusing to admit his hiring, though not denying it either. "As far as I know, nothing is going to be determined until Monday."

Perhaps not officially, but let's just say Wilson will have to do some scrambling to keep his single-digit golf handicap in order this summer.

It will start days after the Leafs wind up their season next weekend. Sun Media has learned that Wilson also will guide the U.S. team at the world championship in Switzerland, which will provide him with an early opportunity to start scouting for Vancouver.

Unlike the first time he coached the U.S. Olympic team, at the 1998 Nagano Games, there will be a summer training camp eating further into his off-season and keeping the rust on his short game.

There may have been other candidates -- Peter Laviolette and John Tortorella come to mind -- but the guess is Wilson was the clear choice for a lengthy list of reasons.

First, there is his connection with Burke. While the folks at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. will expect that the pair not spend too much time away from their prime duties with the Leafs, it helps international matters that they work under the same roof.

Burke has promised that the U.S. team for Vancouver will be a young squad, which also plays to Wilson's strengths, as he has shown in the way he has handled the Leafs this season. Newest Leaf Christian Hanson was the 10th rookie to suit up for Wilson this season when he made his NHL debut last night.

Then there is the coach's "worldly" experience. His long-standing attachment to USA Hockey includes leading Team USA to the gold medal at the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996. He also was behind the bench for the 1998 Olympics and 1994 and 1996 world championships.

Though careful not to confirm his hiring, Wilson willingly acknowledged that the cachet of the Olympics is difficult to beat when it comes to international hockey.

"(The Olympics) obviously gets the most attention," Wilson said. "In the past, with World Cups you had a little more time to prepare and the games might be a wee bit better ... but that's changing now.

"I've been fortunate to probably coach more games (internationally for the U.S.) than anybody. It's a lot of fun (and) it is a challenge. It's a short-term event. Short-term preparation. It's tremendous pride when you represent your country."

Finally, his experience in Toronto thus far has only strengthened Wilson's credentials. The ease with which he brushes off the media when the mood strikes will serve him well in Vancouver where the hype will get beyond crazy.

And he will love every minute of it.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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