Gold win doesn’t guarantee US women’s hockey coach’s return
BRAMPTON, Ontario (AP) — In less than a year since taking over as coach, John Wroblewski has brought a women’s hockey gold medal back to the United States for the first time since 2019.
While both Wroblewski and USA Hockey are open to continuing their relationship, the question remains as to whether he’ll be behind the bench for next year’s world championships in Utica, New York.
Asked twice about his status during the world tournament in suburban Toronto, Wroblewski said he’d love to stay on, before deferring questions to USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher.
“I told you, you’ve got to talk to Pat,” Wroblewski repeated to The Associated Press shortly after a 6-3 gold-medal win over Canada on Sunday night.
On Friday, Kelleher was in full support of Wroblewski staying on, while saying it was the coach’s decision.
The uncertainty revolves around whether the 41-year-old Wroblewski begins attracting interest from NHL teams this offseason.
Working his way up through the minor league ranks, Wroblewski first landed on the NHL’s radar during a four-year stint overseeing USA Hockey’s national developmental program. His 2018-19 team stood out in featuring eight first-round draft picks, led by No. 1 selection Jack Hughes going to the New Jersey Devils.
The success led to Wroblewski being hired to coach the Los Angeles Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Ontario Reign. He was there for a year and a half before stepping down for personal reasons in December 2021.
USA Hockey then tapped him to coach the women’s team as the replacement for Joel Johnson, whose term ended after the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, where the defending Olympic champion Americans settled for silver after a 3-2 loss to Canada.
Wroblewski immediately introduced an up-tempo style to keep pace with and counter Canada. The philosophy showed promise, with the Americans beating Canada in the preliminary round of the 2022 world championships in Denmark, before a 2-1 loss in the title game.
This year, Wroblewski oversaw a retooled and younger U.S. team, which featured five players making their world championships debut.
On Sunday, the Americans overcame three one-goal deficits and eventually wore down the experienced, two-time defending champion Canadians. Captain Hilary Knight scored the go-ahead goal with 3:01 left and then capped her three-goal performance by scoring 27 seconds later.
If the 33-year-old Knight had any reservations about some of her more familiar teammates not making the cut, the concerns evaporated in the postgame celebration. Knight skated over and personally presented the championship trophy to Wroblewski before embracing him in a hug.
“It meant a lot,” Wroblewski said of Knight, who took over the captain’s role in the absence of Kendall Coyne Schofield (pregnant), and won her tournament record-matching ninth gold medal.
“Personally, being around Hilary has been so invigorating,” he added. “She’s got a presence about her. I’ll follow her anywhere.”
With the competitive gap closing among European teams, the International Ice Hockey Federation is considering going with a balanced two-grouping format for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.
The new format would be similar to the men’s competition in which teams are split evenly based on their rankings into two groups with no crossover play until the playoff rounds.
IIHF executive Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer said the federation will test the new format at the women’s Under-18 world championship next year, before considering it at the senior level.
The current format features the top five-ranked teams placed in Group A and the bottom five in Group B. While all five Group A teams qualify for the playoff round, only the top three Group B finishers advance. The Group B teams remain seeded sixth through eighth based on their order of finish, and face the top three Group A teams in the quarterfinals.
The current format favors Group A’s fourth- and fifth-place finishing teams by ensuring them a berth in the semis. At issue is no fourth- or fifth-place Group A finisher has medaled in the five tournaments — including the 2022 Beijing Games — since the IIHF expanded the field from eight to 10 teams.
TWO TOO MANY?
The absence of Russia due to the war in Ukraine led to the IIHF following its bylaws by having the bottom two teams — Hungary and France — relegated after this tournament. Previously, the bottom two teams would face off with the loser being relegated.
German coach Thomas Schadler expressed relief in finishing eighth, while saying it’s unfair to have two teams relegated because it stunts development. Schadler said the best way for nations to develop is having the opportunity to play against elite competition rather than yo-yoing between being relegated and having to resume the grueling process of competing in qualification tournaments.
Kolbenheyer said the IIHF will consider changing its relegation rules when reviewing whether to alter its groupings format.