Burke, Wilson to helm USA

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

The two-headed dragon that drives the Maple Leafs will be the same duo that leads the American team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2009 world championship.

General manager Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson will remain together after the Leafs season is over to guide the U.S. team at the world championship, April 24-May 10 in Berne and Zurich-Kloten, Switzerland, and next winter in Vancouver.

Never one to worry about political sensibilities, Wilson did not hesitate for a second when asked yesterday what kind of team he will put together for Vancouver.

"A team that's going to be able to handle Canada," he said. "Canada's always in the top four and in order to play for a gold you're probably going to have to beat Canada somewhere along the way.

"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 of the U.S. team at the 2010 Games. "This year, that's what I'm trying to incorporate here in Toronto with a very young, inexperienced team, and we've had a little bit of success playing that way."

Burke took it upon himself yesterday during a USA Hockey conference call to address potential questions of professional nepotism.

"Ronny and I have been friends and teammates going back 30-plus years and there will be people who will say: 'Isn't it convenient that Burkie picked his best buddy?' (But) we'll tell you, when we talked about the head coaching job for both Switzerland and Vancouver I did not weigh in until the rest of the committee had done so," he said.

"I think we'd be fools to pass on Ron Wilson just because he's a buddy of mine.

"We looked at other coaches ... and two guys who received great consideration should be mentioned, Peter Laviolette, who has answered the bell for us before, and (New York Rangers coach) John Tortorella. Both guys were considered and may still be involved with the Olympic team in some capacity. But the group felt strongly and unanimously that Ron Wilson was the guy that we should have."

Wilson led the American side to the gold medal at the first World Cup of hockey in 1996 and was also the coach of the U.S. side at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, a disappointing tournament both on and off the ice. The U.S. team placed sixth and a number of players gave the organization a black eye by trashing their dorm rooms after being eliminated from competition. Wilson said part of the problem in Japan was that the American squad did not have enough time to prepare. To address that, the U.S. will convene for an orientation session, Aug.17-19 in Chicago.

'WE'VE LEARNED'

"I think what we've learned from that experience in Nagano, both ourselves and Canada, was we needed to get our team together in the summertime. We basically assembled ourselves, got on a plane, flew over, had one practice and unfortunately never really came as a team," he said.

Burke said to expect a young team in Vancouver, similar to at last year's worlds.

"That was the first time at the world championship we took a team into battle without those great warriors that represented USA Hockey so well, the Doug Weights, the Tony Amontes, the Mike Richters, the Chris Chelioses."

Wilson vowed his American squad will challenge for the gold in Vancouver.

"Obviously I think the gold medal runs right through Canada," he said. "They're going to be the favourites, but we've never been intimidated playing in Canada. Go back to '96 (World Cup), we had to win two games in Montreal and that ranks right up there in my career."

It's expected that Leafs forward Jason Blake will play under Wilson at the worlds later this month in Switzerland, and perhaps Lee Stempniak will as well.


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