Pittsburgh Penguins players such as wingers Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel and defenseman Brian Dumoulin might have some extra incentive to get coach Mike Sullivan’s attention in the best possible way during the upcoming season. After all, the three Americans could not only help the NHL team work toward a Stanley Cup run, but also lobby for spots on the United States team for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing next February.
“I’m going to operate on the premise that the NHL and the (International) Olympic Committee are going to work toward an agreement and (NHL players) are going to participate,” Sullivan said during a USA Hockey video conference Wednesday after he was officially named coach of Team USA for 2022 after the news broke previously.
The NHL has built in a pause in its schedule for the Games, although it is not finalized that NHL players will be eligible to go to Beijing.
Sullivan, 53, has been an assistant with USA Hockey for various tournaments, including the 2006 Olympic team in Torino, Italy, as part of Peter Laviolette’s staff, and before that participated in events as a player, although not at the Olympics.
“It’s hard to articulate in words what this means to me,” Sullivan said.
He said growing up in Massachusetts, he became enamored of the Americans at the Olympics in 1980 when he was 12 and the U.S. pulled off the Miracle On Ice to upset the Soviets en route to a gold medal. More recently, he said there has been tremendous growth in the level of American hockey over the past 20 years or so.
“I’ve watched it evolve right before my eyes,” Sullivan said, adding that he’s going in with the expectation of guiding the Americans to a gold medal for the first time since that iconic 1980 run.
Pulling double duty as Penguins and Team USA coach is something Sullivan will have to master. He said relying on what he considers top-notch staffs in Pittsburgh and at the national level will help facilitate things, but noted that “there’s no doubt that logistically it will be an added challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’m excited about. It’s a challenge that I look forward to.”
Sullivan became enamored of the Olympic experience in 2006 in Torino, and not just because of the coaching,
“The competition is terrific. It’s the pinnacle of sports,” he said. “But one of the greatest experiences that I found was having the ability to live in the Olympic Village with all the athletes. … Just being able to eat lunch in the cafeteria next to athletes from other sports and sharing each others’ experiences. You end up meeting other people and rooting for them in other sports. It’s just a camaraderie that’s involved with all the other athletes that represent your nation.”
Here is Sullivan’s bio from the USA Hockey news release:
Mike Sullivan, who has been involved with USA Hockey in multiple capacities for parts of the last five decades, will serve as head coach of a U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team for the first time.
Sullivan, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he has led the NHL franchise to a pair of Stanley Cup titles during his tenure, most recently served as an assistant coach for Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
The Marshfield, Massachusetts native has served on the staff for multiple other national teams, including as an assistant coach for the 2006 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team at the Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy. In addition, he was the head coach of the 2007 U.S. Men’s National Team at the International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship in Moscow and Mytischi, Russia, and an assistant coach for the 2008 U.S. Men’s National Team at the IIHF Men’s World Championship in Quebec City, Quebec. Sullivan was also an advance scout for the 2015 U.S. National Junior Team.
Sullivan took over as head coach of the Penguins in December of the 2015-16 season and led the club to the Stanley Cup title. He guided Pittsburgh to a 33-16-5 regular-season record and became the sixth head coach in NHL history to win the Cup after being hired mid-season. He also coached the Penguins to the Stanley Cup title the following season to become the first American-born coach in NHL history to win multiple Cups.
Sullivan spent two seasons as head coach of the Boston Bruins (2003-04/2005-06) and led the team to the Northeast Division crown his first season guiding the club. He has also had stints as an NHL assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning (2007-09), New York Rangers (2009-13) and Vancouver Canucks (2013-14).
Sullivan, who has been a speaker at multiple USA Hockey coaching clinics, began his professional coaching career in 2002 with the Boston Bruin’s AHL affiliate Providence Bruins.
As a player, Sullivan represented the U.S. on two occasions—once as a member of the 1988 U.S. National Junior Team and also as a member of the 1997 U.S. Men’s National Team. He played collegiate hockey at Boston University (1986-90), and, professionally, spent parts of 12 seasons with the NHL’s Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks.