According to multiple reports, most notably a tweet from ESPN hockey guy (no, that's not an oxymoron) John Buccigross, former NHL defenseman Phil Housley will be named head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team Monday.
The team will compete in the IIHF World Junior Championships, which start the day after Christmas in Ufa, Russia.
USA Hockey supporters on Twitter aren't exactly loving this move, as it is quite the break from what has become the norm since a 2009 failure with National Team Development Program coach Ron Rolston coaching. In 2010, established college coach Dean Blais led the United States to a gold medal in Saskatoon. Yale's Keith Allain took the reins for a bronze medal in 2011. Last year's team, an experienced one coached again by Blais, disappointed greatly in finishing seventh.
Now, the powers-that-be at USA Hockey have chosen 2013, which should feature a very inexperienced United States team, to hire a coach with no head-coaching experience above the high school level.
Housley was a great defenseman, one of the best American-born players of all time. He's second in points among all U.S.-born players, trailing only Mike Modano. While Housley never won a Stanley Cup, he did win a gold medal with the 1996 U.S. team in the World Cup of Hockey. He was also on the silver-medal 2002 U.S. Olympic team.
(Wait. Did someone mention the 1996 World Cup of Hockey?)
Housley's coaching experience is more limited than anyone who has gotten this prestigious job in a long time. It makes him an easy target, especially after last winter's disappointment. His head coaching experience is limited to his time at Stillwater High School, where the Ponies have made zero state tournaments under Housley.
(To be fair, they have also made zero state tournaments with other coaches in their history.)
He's a name. USA Hockey loves names, and while I may disagree with the philosophy, it's clear that the governing body believes this is the best time to move away from established college coaches to run the junior team.
Perhaps running a high school program means Housley will have more time to spend focusing on picking a team and getting his players prepared for what lies ahead. There's no real way of knowing that.
I've suggested in the past that USA Hockey hire a full-time coach to run the junior program. That single voice would be charged with doing due diligence on players, especially those who have not been involved with the NTDP, as well as being the face of the junior team. No, Canada doesn't run things this way, but Canada's insane success from the U20 level up doesn't mean that Canada's way is the only way.
That said, my reaction is probably similar to most of you. After seeing established college coaches take this job more often than not in recent years, it's a rather surprising piece of news to see USA Hockey go with a high school coach.
Housley is no dummy, however. He played a lot of hockey, and he spent a lot of time in leadership roles on his various teams. He's coached junior hockey before, and now he coaches high school-age kids. Relating to players should be no issue for Housley.
I'd expect that his coaching staff will include at least one veteran amateur coach, preferably one with some experience coaching an international tournament like this.
A lot of people seem to hate this hire. I'll be honest and say that I don't like it a whole lot. There is pressure on this program to win now. It's not like the old days where a medal was cause for a parade. We've past that point. Two medals in a row -- bracketed by teams that everyone feels should have been better than they were -- is going to put that kind of heat on a team. This is not the time for an experiment, or a guess, especially with the number of inexperienced players who could end up on this World Junior team.
It's a tough spot for Housley. He'll be expected to work with a group that a highly-respected coach like Blais may have struggled to medal with.
In the end, we should all band together in wishing Housley the best. He needs the support of American hockey fans, not their catcalls.