The members of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team staff are from all over the country, but five of them have one city in common: Pittsburgh.
USA Hockey announced today that Todd Reirden has been named one of Mike Sullivan’s four assistant coaches for the 2022 Winter Olympics, while Andy Saucier will be Team USA’s video coach.
John Hynes (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach, 2009-10; head coach, ’10-15) is also one of Team USA’s assistant coaches, while Bill Guerin (player, 2009-10; development coach, ’11-14; assistant general manager, ’14-19) is the assistant general manager.
“Certainly some different situations, whether it’s Billy being a general manager, Andy Saucier joining us as a video coach, and then with me and John and Sully as well. It’s exciting times,” Reirden said.
“It says a lot about the Pittsburgh Penguins and how they choose their staff, and how important it is to do your due diligence and get people that you feel can set your team up for success and then eventually develop in this league.”
It also says a lot about WBS, Pittsburgh’s American Hockey League affiliate. Sullivan, Reirden and Hynes were all head coaches there at one point, while Saucier got his start there as well.
“I just think it speaks volumes for how important Wilkes-Barre is to the organization as a whole,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s one of the most well-run American Hockey League teams and based on my experience, there’s great leadership there with (CEO) Jeff Barrett, (CFO/Executive Vice President) Greg Petorak and the guys that are there day in and day out that run that operation. I think there’s great support from our ownership, financial and otherwise. I think the Penguins value the development process and the importance of that, not just with players.”
Reirden said it was great for the Pittsburgh crew to reconnect last week with Hynes, now the head coach in Nashville, and Guerin, now the general manager in Minnesota. The staff had gotten together for a few days to begin preparations ahead of the other big announcement that came today: NHL players will officially be heading to Beijing after not participating in PyeongChang in 2018.
“I think it’s a great decision, and I’m glad that everyone involved made it work,” Reirden said. “I think ultimately, it’s really about continuing to grow our game. And I think that the National Hockey League has done a great job, and the players as well, of being able to pull this off and grow what I feel is the best game in the world.”
The NHL players’ last Olympics occurred in 2014 in Sochi, where Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz helped lead Canada to victory over Sweden in the Gold Medal Game.
That year, Team USA’s staff also featured five members with Pittsburgh/WBS connections, starting with head coach Dan Bylsma – which means that for each of the last two Olympics with NHL participation, the Penguins head coach has been in charge. The group also included assistant coaches Tony Granato and Todd Richards; associate GM Ray Shero; and Saucier, who served as video coordinator.
“It’s a major credit to what’s gone on in the last number of years, and it all starts here with the management group in Pittsburgh and the upper management people that are making the decisions from top to bottom,” Reirden said. “They’ve done a phenomenal job of bringing in different types of people – people that they knew could help lead and teach the culture that we expect to have here in Pittsburgh – and it’s great.”
Going back even further, three of the U.S. Olympic head coaches over the last 20 years have had Penguins connections, with Sullivan, Bylsma and Herb Brooks – who was a Pittsburgh scout in 2002 when he guided the Americans to a silver medal in Salt Lake City.
Of course, Brooks was also behind the bench for the legendary 1980 Miracle on Ice, and before that, Badger Bob Johnson coached Team USA in 1976.
“I think the Penguins have such a storied tradition in hockey, both in the NHL with what they’ve accomplished and by winning Stanley Cups and having some of the greatest players of all-time play for them,” Sullivan said. “But also with what they’ve accomplished on the international stage, in particular as it relates to American coaches. Herb Brooks, Badger Bob, Danny Bylsma – these guys are elite coaches. They’re guys that I’ve looked up to over the years. And I couldn’t be more humbled to be part of that conversation. It is a proud moment for me to be part of that fraternity.”
‘Proud’ was the same word Reirden used when describing his reaction to today’s news. It’s his first time representing the United States on the international stage at any level.
“It’s always been a dream, and definitely a huge check off my bucket list of one day getting an opportunity like this,” Reirden said. “Just feel so honored to be given this opportunity. Any chance you have to represent your country is one that you don’t take lightly, and obviously is a very special moment.”
While the Penguins are certainly well-represented on the staff side, it’s yet to be determined whether that will extend to the player side. But names like Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have certainly been in the conversation.
“I believe we’re going to try and build a team in a true sense of the word, and then the challenge is going to be to try to come together as a team in short order,” Sullivan said. “That’s going to be our challenge. I’m excited about the opportunity. When I look at some of the players that we have to choose from, there’s going to be some very, very difficult decisions. We have some real good American players on our Pittsburgh Penguins roster that will be part of that process, I’m sure.”