Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Sullivan to move in after Tortorella declines spot
By Scott Burnside
Boston Bruins coach Mike Sullivan will replace John Tortorella on the U.S. men's Olympic hockey coaching staff after the Lightning coach declined the spot, ESPN.com has learned.
The United States Olympic Committee must approve the move, but that is merely a formality, sources close to the Olympic team said Tuesday.
Sullivan will join St. Louis Blues goaltending coach Keith Allain as an assistant to Olympic team head coach Peter Laviolette, who also coaches the Carolina Hurricanes. It is possible another assistant coach may be added in the future.
Tortorella, coach of the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning, was an assistant to Laviolette at the 2005 World Championships in Austria and was expected to return for the Turin Olympics, which begin Feb. 15. But after discussions with Olympic team officials, Tortorella decided his time would be better spent preparing the Lightning for the second-half push following the Olympic break.
"John decided to take a pass," the source told ESPN.com.
There will be no NHL games from Feb. 13-27 as the league shuts down to allow players to take part in the Olympics.
Tortorella told ESPN.com Tuesday that if was ever afforded the opportunity to be the head coach at this level he might feel differently. But as an assistant he felt he couldn't justify taking time away from the team.
"To me Peter Laviolette is the right hire (for this job). That has nothing to do with my decision," said Tortorella. "I had a ball with Peter. I'm just being honest. Being head coach just brings a whole different bearing to it."
"I think the team's in great hands," he added.
Sullivan, 37, was the NHL's youngest coach when he took over the Bruins' coaching reins prior to the start of the 2003-04 season. It was his first NHL head coaching assignment.
A native of Marshfield, Mass., Sullivan guided the Bruins to first place in the Northeast Division with 104 points, the second-highest point total in the Eastern Conference. The team also boasted the fewest number of regulation-time losses in the league. But the Bruins blew series leads of 2-0 and 3-1 and fell to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2004 playoffs.
Sullivan began his coaching career in July 2002 with the Bruins top farm club, Providence of the American Hockey League. He was promoted to an assistant's role with the Bruins late that season when GM Mike O'Connell fired Robbie Ftorek and took over the coaching duties himself.
After the Bruins were eliminated in the first round by the New Jersey Devils, Sullivan returned to Providence for the balance of the 2003 AHL playoffs and was named Bruins head coach later that summer.
Sullivan played as a center in 709 NHL games over 11 seasons, mostly in a defensive role, recording 54 goals and 136 points.
Although he has no international coaching experience, he is considered among the new generation of teaching coaches that has enjoyed early success at the NHL level. He should mesh well with Laviolette, a native of Norwood, Mass., who shares a similar coaching style and background as a player.
Sullivan's choice over more experienced coaches like Ron Wilson is another illustration of USA Hockey's determination to become younger on the ice, behind the bench and at the management level.
The U.S. team at the 2005 World Championships did not include veteran stars like Bill Guerin, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Keith Tkachuk. The team lost in a shootout to the eventual gold-medal winner Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.
The U.S. team will hold an orientation camp for 39 potential Olympians in Colorado Springs from Sept. 6-8.
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.