US women’s hockey team lacks coach with Olympics 1 year out

BOSTON (AP) — Longtime NHL defenseman Ken Klee is out as the coach of the U.S. women’s hockey team after leading the Americans to gold medals at the last two world championships.

Who’s in?

The players are waiting to hear, less than a month before the world championships and less than a year before the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

Klee is “not our coach right now,” star forward Hilary Knight told The Associated Press on Saturday. “I just know that it was a privilege to work with him.”

Knight wouldn’t say what reasons USA Hockey gave for the change. Reagan Carey, the team’s general manager, also declined to say why Klee was let go but said the decision was part of “determining what’s needed and making sure we are advancing as a team.”

Carey said she made a decision after the Sochi Olympics, when the Americans lost in overtime to Canada in the gold-medal game, to name a head coach event by event. Klee, who played for seven NHL teams during a 14-year career, won two straight world championships under this system and twice won the prestigious Four Nations Cup, most recently in November.

“There’s only positive things I can say about Ken,” Carey told the AP, adding that a head coach for the 2017 world championships will be named early next week. “He provided a lot of great coaching and motivation for our team. It worked well, as you can see by the scoreboard.”

Former NHL goaltender Robb Stauber was the head coach for a pair of exhibitions against Canada in December.

“A lot of people have come and gone,” Knight said. “It definitely is different how they’re doing it now.”

Carey noted that there has been continuity on the coaching staff, with Klee on the bench for two years and many of the assistants remaining constant.

“It certainly would be difficult to have a new head coach every event,” she said. “It’s been a good balance having a core coaching staff. It’s not been a completely different staff every time.”

Stauber has been involved with the women’s national team since 2010 and was the goaltenders coach for the team that won the silver medal in Sochi. It is rare — but not unprecedented — for a goalie to be the head coach for a hockey team, with Hall of Famer Patrick Roy recently serving three years on the Colorado Avalanche bench.

“I am not worried about a goalie being a head coach,” Carey said. “Whatever position he used to play is not important.”

The world championships begin March 31 in Plymouth, Michigan, and the rosters are also expected to be announced next week. The next major event is the 2017 Four Nations Cup, followed by the Pyeongchang Olympics; Carey said the goal would be to have the same coaching staff in place for both.

Knight noted that Canada has twice changed coaches during the run-up to the Olympics, including just two months before the Sochi Games, when Dan Church resigned and was replaced by Kevin Dineen.

“We’ve got such a strong leadership group,” said Knight, a two-time Olympic silver medalist. “Regardless of who steps up and who’s coaching, we’ve got to do our own jobs.”