Wroblewski itching to join US women’s hockey team at worlds
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — While his players and staff jetted to Denmark in preparation for the women’s world hockey championships, U.S. coach John Wroblewski was left behind in Buffalo, where he is essentially climbing the walls of his hotel room waiting to join them.
“They brought me some resistance bands the other day so I can stay in shape,” said Wroblewski, who was placed in 10-day self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 last weekend.
Though still having some difficulty catching his breath when he spoke to The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday, Wroblewski said his condition was improving. On Friday, Wroblewski texted that he’s feeling even better and planning to travel overseas in time for practice Tuesday, two days before the Americans open the 10-nation tournament against Japan.
Hired in May, Wroblewski replaced Joel Johnson, who stepped down because of his commitment to coach the Minnesota-based University of St. Thomas’ women’s hockey program.
Conducting meetings over Zoom, and watching video of practices run by his assistants isn’t how Wroblewski envisioned getting his coaching career off to a fresh start. And his new role comes with added pressure, with the 41-year-old from Wisconsin challenged to breathe new life into a team that settled for silver in its past two international competitions under Johnson.
The U.S. had won five straight world championships before losing the gold-medal game to Canada last year. The frustrations were compounded at the Beijing Winter Games in February, when the defending Olympic champions lost again to the archrival Canadians.
“Oh, I’ll tell you, I had a lot planned for the team, and how many things I could get to was to be determined,” Wroblewski said. “And what this has done is really put a bull’s eye on a few items.”
His main emphasis is stressing that major changes aren’t needed for a veteran-led team to regain its place atop the podium. The 23-player roster features 18 returning Olympians with just three making their national team debuts.
“The bones of the team are great. I’m not trying to change a lot,” he said. “We’re trying to gain a little bit more predictability in a few areas.”
Wroblewski wants the Americans to rely more on their speed while also simplifying their defensive scheme to counter Canada’s up-tempo transition attack. Converting chances is also an emphasis after the Americans finished the Olympics seventh out of 10 teams in scoring efficiency with just 30 goals on a tournament-leading 374 shots.
Wroblewski’s most noticeable tweaks were evident in how he’s spread his offensive talent across all four lines.
Hilary Knight practiced alongside Hannah Brandt and newcomer Hannah Bilka, while the forward tandem of Alex Carpenter and Amanda Kessel have been split up. Kessel practiced alongside Kendall Coyne Schofield and Kelly Pannek, while Carpenter was on a line with Abby Roque and Hayley Scamurra. The fourth line featured Grace Zumwinkle, Lacey Eden and Jesse Compher.
That’s a switch from Johnson, who stocked the top two lines with his best offensive players and leaned heavily on his veterans, who eventually wore down as the Olympic tournament progressed.
“That’s my belief on how a team should be built, especially internationally, and that every night you should have different starring lines,” Wroblewski said.
The players have bought in.
“X’s and O’s. There’s no denying that we’re going to be a prepared team,” Coyne Schofield said. “We’ve always been a team that loves to play fast, loves to play with speed. And now it’s just putting a little bit of structure and style behind that speed.”
Knight called Wroblewski’s approach a “night and day difference.”
“I think every coach has their style, and the way they want to teach the game and imprint a team. It’s just different,” Knight said. “It’s exciting to be re-energized by his energy and the way that he approaches things.”
Wroblewski has a reputation for being intense and detailed, which reflects the aggressive attacking style he demands from his teams. He’s best known for the four-year stint coaching USA Hockey’s national development teams that produced 29 NHL draft picks from 2016-20, including 11 first-rounders in 2019.
The success led to Wroblewski being hired to coach the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate. He coached the Ontario Reign for a season-and-a-half before taking a leave of absence in December for what he called personal reasons, and then resigned three months later.
Wroblewski declined to discuss what happened, saying he doesn’t want to distract the focus from his team and the tournament.
“I’ll be happy at some point to discuss some of those reasons. I don’t know what that point will be,” Wroblewski said. “But I’ll tell you, I’m in a great space. I’ve got a different outlook on life and where I want to be. And this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Even if it means being stuck in a hotel room for a few more days.
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