There's a changing of the guard at the top of the Team USA management team for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.
Larry Pleau, general manager of the St. Louis Blues, was named Wednesday to replace New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello as the executive director. Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell will assist Pleau.
Pleau and Waddell also will head the USA effort at the 2004 World Championships.
Lamoriello was in charge when Team USA won the last World Cup of Hockey, defeating Canada in a best-of-three showdown for top honors in 1996. Though it was considered at the time as a breakthrough effort for USA hockey on the world stage, Lamoriello recently cited pressing duties with the Devils and the additional responsibility of being chief executive officer of the NBA's New Jersey Nets as reasons he would not be able to return to head the 2004 effort.
The upcoming tournament is the second World Cup, a joint venture of the NHL, the NHL Players Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation. The tournament runs from Aug. 30 through Sept. 14 and features teams from the USA, Canada, Russia and Slovakia in what's been termed the North American pool. The Czech Republic, Finland, Germany and Sweden will compete in the European pool. The games will be played under NHL rules.
While the World Cup is a relatively unknown and infrequent affair, it tends to include the best professional hockey players. Canada recently named Wayne Gretzky to head its entry into the tournament. Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe will assist Gretzky. Those two guided Team Canada to the Olympic gold medal in the 2002 games at Salt Lake City. Pleau was the assistant to Team USA GM Craig Patrick at Salt Lake where the U.S. won the silver.
If there is a strike or lockout at the conclusion of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players Association, the World Cup games could well be the last of hockey as North Americans have come to know it for an unknown amount of time.
An interesting aside is that the World Championships are likely to loom large in the selection of players for the World Cup team. The World Championships, run by the IIHF, is an annual tournament that traditionally decides which teams qualify for the Olympics. The next Olympic competition is scheduled for 2006 in Italy, and it is important for Team USA to finish in the top eight at the World Championships to secure an Olympic berth.
The NHL has not yet committed to sending its players to the 2006 Olympics, but the berth still needs to be secured whether or not the pros play in that competition. In recent seasons, many pros eligible to play in the IIHF tournament have opted out, citing the long NHL season as an excuse. With Pleau and Waddell heading the selection process for both tournaments, skipping the World Championships tournament could be costly to players looking to play in the World Cup or for the professional edition of the U.S. Olympic team.
The decision to name Pleau to replace Lamoriello was not difficult for USA Hockey. Long a representative of the U.S. as both a player and an administrator, Pleau has a lengthy resume in regards to USA's international teams.
He was a player on the 1968 U.S. Olympic team and the 1969 U.S. national team. He also played for Team USA in the 1976 Canada Cup tournament and has long been involved with USA Hockey's administrative efforts.
Waddell has been general manger of Team USA's efforts in both the 2001 and 2002 World Championships. He served as assistant general manager for Team USA at the World Championships following the 1999-2000 NHL season.
Regarding the World Cup tournament, games are slated for four European and three North American venues. The Bell Centre in Montreal will host games Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Games will be played at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Sept. 2, 3, 7 and 10. Air Canada Centre in Toronto will host games Sept. 4, 5, 8 and 11, as well as the championship game Sept. 14.
Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland, will host games on Aug. 3 and Sept. 4. Games will be played at Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Teams will play at Cologne Arena in Cologne, Germany, on Sept. 2 and at Sazka Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, on Sept. 3. European quarterfinal games will be played at the home venue of the top two European qualifying teams. The championship will be a one-game affair, not a best-of-three series like 1996 and so many other international tournaments involving NHL players.