David Quinn was supposed to be an assistant on Mike Sullivan’s coaching staff for the U.S. men’s hockey team at the upcoming Winter Olympics.
After the NHL decided not to send players to Beijing, Quinn is now in charge as U.S. coach and John Vanbiesbrouck, a Detroit native, is the latest general manager in USA Hockey’s first shift to plan B for another Olympics without the best hockey players in the world.
“To be named the head coach under these circumstances, it’s bittersweet in some ways,” Quinn said on a video call Monday. “We all were hoping that the NHL guys were going to go, but to be named the head coach for the 2022 Olympic team is an incredible honor.”
Quinn, 55, was the only member of the initial coaching staff not currently working in the NHL. He coached the New York Rangers the past three seasons after five years at Boston University.
Internationally, Quinn most recently coached for the U.S. as an assistant at the 2016 world championships and was also on staff for that tournament in 2007 and 2012.
“All those opportunities for me have prepared me for this,” Quinn said.
Instead of a U.S. roster featuring the likes of Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane and Seth Jones, Vanbiesbrouck will be tasked with drawing from the college ranks and European professional leagues, similar to 2018.
“He certainly has the greatest handle on the overall player pool of American players,” USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said of Vanbiesbrouck. “He’s been involved with the NHL and our NHL people involved for the 2022 Olympic team, so no one better to serve as the GM of our team than John Vanbiesbrouck, who can take what we’ve been doing so far to move forward.”
Vanbiesbrouck is the third person to take over Olympic roster preparations after Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin replaced Stan Bowman, who resigned after an investigation found he had a prominent role in the Chicago Blackhawks mishandling sexual assault allegations in 2010. Guerin stepped aside when the NHL pulled out.
“This turn of events, we have to get to work and we have to get to work quickly selecting our team,” Vanbiesbrouck said.
Vanbiesbrouck has served as USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations for the past three and a half years. A U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer who played 953 NHL games as a goaltender from 1981-2002, Vanbiesbrouck resigned as GM and coach of a junior hockey team in 2003 after using a racial slur to describe defenseman Trevor Daley, who is Black.
Upon hiring Vanbiesbrouck in 2018, Kelleher said the organization looked into that incident and said, “He looks at it as a terrible situation, an awful mistake – something that’s helped change him for the better.” Vanbiesbrouck at the time apologized, adding: “It’s not who I am. It doesn’t define me as a person and I have no prejudices in me, and it will never happen again.”
Former Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien is expected to be behind the bench for Canada, replacing back-to-back Stanley Cup winner Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Former Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan is considered the leading candidate to be GM after Hockey Canada used an international tune-up tournament in Moscow to put together an Olympic backup plan without an NHL presence.
Quinn and Vanbiesbrouck have spoken every day since the NHL withdrew from the Olympics. “John and kind of changed gears in a hurry once this became official and started focusing on the current player pool that we’re going to be able to draw from,” Quinn said.
That pool could include players in the American Hockey League and ECHL, though only those not under contract to an NHL organization. Vanbiesbrouck said, “From the goal on out, we’re going to be strong” and mentioned there are roster candidates who played college hockey last year and now professionals.
So, instead of 2020 Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck, the U.S. could have University of Michigan product Strauss Mann as its top goaltender in Beijing. Mann has a 1.75 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 12 games this season in the Swedish Hockey League.
Beyond goaltenders, Quinn said he is familiar with many of the players on the new list from their time at the NCAA level. As far as trying to convince current college players to go to the Olympics, he’s ready for that challenge, as well, even if it won’t be easy.
“These circumstances are a lot different than when you’re recruiting a college athlete: leaving the team in the middle of the season and with the COVID situation, Quinn said. “There’s a lot of hurdles, a lot of obstacles, but I think everyone wants to play in the Olympics. We just got to make sure we go through the right channels and go through the right process to make sure that we get the right people and put the right team together.”