Pens’ Sullivan tapped to coach U.S. hockey team

Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins will coach the U.S. men’s hockey team if the NHL goes to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

USA Hockey announced its coaches for the 2022 Games on Wednesday. Along with Sullivan, Joel Johnson of the University of St. Thomas will coach the women’s national team, which seeks its second straight gold medal. David Hoff was named the head coach for the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team.

Sullivan, 53, has served as head coach of the Penguins for the last six seasons, winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017. The Massachusetts native has a lifetime coaching record of 321-187 with 15 ties and 66 overtime losses with the Penguins and Boston Bruins. He has international experience, most recently having served as an assistant coach to John Tortorella in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He also served as an assistant coach on Peter Laviolette’s staff at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke said the team was excited when USA Hockey reached out and asked for Sullivan to coach the Olympic team.

“We think he deserves it. We frankly think he should have been a finalist for NHL coach of the year. It’ll be a great experience for him, if we go,” said Burke, who was the general manager for Team USA in 2010 and director of player personnel in 2014.

Burke said that Sullivan makes for a good Olympics coach because he understands the nuances of it being a short tournament.

“It’s really critical. People don’t realize how quickly the Olympics come and then go. You gotta get your team on the same page right away, and the teams that don’t have trouble. So you gotta pick the right team, fill all the right roles and the coach has to get them on the same page immediately. There’s no down time,” Burke said.

Sullivan marks the second Penguins coach to lead the men’s Olympic hockey team in the last decade, as Dan Bylsma led the 2014 team to a fourth-place finish in Sochi.

The NHL’s 2021-22 regular-season schedule will include a break for the Winter Olympics in Beijing. The Olympic break is reportedly scheduled from Feb. 5 to Feb. 22, 2022. But NHL participation in the 2022 Winter Games isn’t yet guaranteed. After skipping the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, the NHL agreed to allow its players to return to the Olympics in 2022 and 2026 as part of the four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement it struck with the NHL Players’ Association last summer. But there are still details, including regarding COVID insurance, that need to be ironed out with the NHLPA and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

On the women’s side, Johnson has more than 20 years of collegiate experience, which includes two stints (1999-2004 and 2010-2021) over 16 years as either assistant or associate coach for the University of Minnesota women’s ice hockey program. He’ll be behind the bench for the IIHF Women’s World Championship, Aug. 20-31 in Calgary, Alberta. The U.S. is trying to win a sixth straight gold medal at that tournament.

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