2016 World Cup of Hockey: Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi hopes to bring winning ways to Team USA

By Ken McKenna
Dean Lombardi - Los Angeles Kings - 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final

Photo: Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi has hoisted the Stanley Cup on two occasions, but is now hoping to build a USA team that can win the World Cup of Hockey for the first time in 20 years (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images



Fans of international hockey won’t have to wait for the 2018 Winter Olympics for the chance to see hockey talent from the top hockey-playing countries competing against one another as it was announced earlier in 2015 that, after a 12-year hiatus, the World Cup of Hockey would be returning in 2016.

The tournament will take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario and will feature national teams from Canada, the United States, Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the Czech Republic, plus two all-star teams, one made up of North American players 23-and-under, and the other featuring top players from the European countries not represented among the six country squads listed above.

Hockey Canada chose St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong as their team executive back in June, and on Thursday in Lake Placid, New York, USA Hockey annouced their management team for the 2016 World Cup squad. Los Angeles Kings General Manager and two-time Stanley Cup winner Dean Lombardi will serve as the USA’s General Manager, while Philadelphia Flyers Team President Paul Holmgren will serve as Lombardi’s Assistant GM. Brian Burke, who was not able to attend the USA Hockey press conference, will serve in an advisory capacity, as well.

The setting for the USA’s announcement was certainly apropos as it took place next door to the rink that hosted the greatest hockey win for the United States, the game that has come to be known as the “Miracle on Ice” where an underdog Team USA knocked off a strong Russian team to earn the right to play for, and win, the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Lombardi mixed in American history with USA Hockey history during his portion of the World Cup press conference, making it clear that he was indeed mindful of the importance of where the announcement was taking place, and how it all tied in with what he expected from his charges once the squad begins to take shape.

“It is only fitting that this announcement takes place in Lake Placid, New York, the site of the greatest spiritual victory in the sport of ice hockey for this country,” said Lombardi. “It is an illustrious example of the power of team, an example of the power of burying your ego, the power of accepting roles, and the power of the pursuit of a higher cause.”

Lombardi then tied in that 1980 win with probably the second most memorable win in USA Hockey’s history.

“I would submit that (Mark) Johnson, (Neal) Broten, (Mike) Ramsey, (Ken) Morrow, (Jim) Craig, and (Mark) Pavelich are the founding fathers of the greatest American team ever assembled,” noted Lombardi. “They were instrumental for inspiring a generation of impressionable youths that became the 1996 World Cup team, a team with the talent and the will that knocked off all the great hockey powers.”

And, while the 1996 World Cup team was much more of an all-star squad than the 1980 gold medalists, taking two wins from Team Canada on Canadian ice to win that ’96 tournament in front of a partisan Montreal crowd was nevertheless a benchmark win for the USA.

Holmgren, who was an assistant coach for the ’96 World Cup team, looked back on that memorable experience during his remarks, noting what he and Lombardi hope will be the same approach taken by the 2016 team.

“The thing I remember most was the players selfless approach to each other and to a common cause, and it was truly a wonderful experience to be a part of,” said Holmgren.

When queried about the type of team that the management group would like to ice in 2016, Lombardi didn’t respond directly but used he and his management team as an indicator of the type of team they would like to assemble.

“Well, I probably tipped you off by the two people that I hired closest to me, Paul Holmgren and Brian Burke…So, that’s probably all you need to know for the two people I hired, we all sing from the same hymn book,” hinted Lombardi.

Indeed, had Burke been in attendance, the word “truculence” might have surfaced at some point during the press conference.

The first step in building the USA’s World Cup squad will be the selection of the head coach. Lombardi made it clear that he doesn’t want that process to drag on.

“I think we’d like to do it – if we can find the right guy – I have no problem naming him as soon as possible…I think it’s important to get that person on board because of some of the things that we have to be in lock-step in tying the type of players we want into the system that we want to play, and the sooner we can get at that, the better,” said Lombardi.

Team USA will surely have a strong group of players to choose from for this World Cup squad, but Lombardi isn’t simply looking to assemble an all-star team.

“The key also in this is fit,” said Lombardi when asked about how his team would be built. “It’s not only who the best player is, but how they’re going to fit with those players that we feel are the core. So, we have to get to our core early, whether it’s five, seven, or eight, and then start working from there on what fits within that core, and then maybe get down to the roles. If you ask me this in probably another month-and-a-half, I’ll have more of a definitive answer, but I think that is the way we are trending on this structure right now.”

While the USA group has the 1980 and 1996 wins to use as inspiration for the World Cup team that will be assembled, the win in ’96 was the country’s last significant win in men’s international hockey. Lombardi noted the shift in mindset that has taken place since those two wins, but also knows it will take some work to get the U.S. squad over the hump 20 years removed from that bygone World Cup win.

“When I first started going to sports festivals and things, there was almost like “Okay, let’s just be respectful”,” Lombardi said of the USA’s past mindset . “And to watch the growth of this program to where now they are walking into rinks and we expect to win is an entirely different mindset, it’s a totally different challenge. It’s very different once you’ve won a Stanley Cup where your mindset is at versus maybe years of not making the playoffs. Having seen that evolution here, it’s almost like the breakthrough of ’96 was just awesome.

“That’s where our expectations have to be, and it’s going to be a process to get there. There’s a difference between being cocky and confident, and that’s a process that we’ve already started and laid the groundwork in the meetings a couple of weeks ago.”

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