Wilson has chance to prove doubters wrong

February, 14, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Maybe it's not so much redemption, and perhaps resurrection is overstating it. But there is much this Olympic tournament offers U.S. coach Ron Wilson.

Like a chance to prove the veteran coach -- a coach who has long been considered one of the most progressive in the league -- still has it.

The bottom line is, it's been a long time since Wilson's coaching star has shone brightly.

Although he enjoyed regular-season success in San Jose, Wilson could not lead the talented Sharks over the hump in the playoffs and was fired after the 2008 postseason. In his second season in Toronto, Wilson has seen his Leafs struggle to show any meaningful improvement. Defensively, they are weak and rank last in goals allowed per game; the penalty kill is awful and likewise ranks last in the league.

There have been not-so-veiled suggestions Wilson has kept his job in Toronto only because he was tabbed by longtime friend and GM Brian Burke to coach the U.S. Olympic team, and it would have been unseemly for Burke to fire him from the Toronto job in advance of the Olympic tournament. It is an assertion Burke has vehemently and repeatedly denied.

Wilson, likewise, bristled Sunday at the notion this tournament will have any bearing on his standing as a coach regardless of how things turn out for the Americans here.

"I've coached 16 years. I'm sixth all-time in games coached. I know I can coach. This isn't about me. This really isn't about me, it really isn't," Wilson insisted. "If we don't win a medal here, I don't think that negates my whole career in the NHL. I don't think winning a gold medal tops off everything. That to me is irrelevant."

Wilson's points are valid ... to a point.

If the Americans don't end up with a medal when the tournament ends two weeks from now, it won't come as a huge surprise. And going home without a medal will not take away from Wilson's role in the seminal American win at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and his other successes in Anaheim and Washington.

But what if this scrappy bunch of young Americans (they are on average five years younger than either the 1998 and 2006 U.S. teams) do defy the odds and do win a medal? As much as a medal of any hue will be the result of strong special-teams play and solid netminding from Ryan Miller, it will also come as a result of Wilson's coaching acumen.

You see, you can't have it both ways. You can't criticize Wilson for his failures in San Jose and, more recently, in Toronto, and then deny him praise if this American team enjoys success here.

Wilson insisted he thinks there's more pressure on him in his regular job as bench boss of the Leafs, yet conceded there are different pressures coaching in this type of environment.

"When the games [in Vancouver] start, you feel pressure, but it's more the pressure you put on yourself because you're competitive and you want to win for your own reasons," Wilson said. "You hope the lines that we put together work, so there's pressure in that. You hope that your power-play units work. That's the pressure.

"When you're watching your team and you say, 'Ah, I got it wrong,' that's kind of where you feel bad that you didn't get it right because you don't have three and four chances here."

Wilson is right. There are no do-overs when it counts here at the Olympic tournament. Likewise, it would appear there are no second chances when it comes to proving a legion of doubters wrong.

And whether you call it redemption or resurrection, the moment is at hand for Wilson.

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer



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