Wroblewski itching to join US women’s hockey team at worlds

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — While his players and staff were jetting off to Denmark in preparation for the women’s hockey world championship, U.S. coach John Wroblewski stayed behind in Buffalo, where he’s basically climbing the walls of their hotel room waiting to join them.

“They brought me resistance bands the other day so I could stay in shape,” said Wroblewski, who was placed in 10-day self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 last weekend.

Although he was still having some difficulty catching his breath when he spoke to The Associated Press by phone Wednesday, Wroblewski said his condition was improving. Wroblewski texted Friday that he’s feeling even better and plans to travel overseas in time to practice Tuesday, two days before the Americans open the 10-nation tournament against Japan.

Hired in May, Wroblewski replaced Joel Johnson, who stepped down due to his commitment to coach the University of St. Louis women’s hockey program. Thomas, based in Minnesota.

Holding meetings via Zoom and watching videos of practices run by his assistants is not how Wroblewski envisioned his coaching career starting over. 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 silverware in its last two internationals under Johnson.

The United States had won five straight world championships before losing the gold medal game to Canada last year. Frustrations boiled over at the Beijing Winter Games in February, when the defending Olympic champions lost again to arch-rivals Canada.

“Oh, I’ll tell you, I had a lot of things planned for the team, and how many things it might end up being is to be determined,” Wroblewski said. “And what that has done is really put a bull’s-eye on some items.”

His main emphasis is to stress that no major changes are needed for a veteran-led team to regain its place at the top of the podium. The 23-man squad features 18 returning Olympians with only three making their debut with the national team.

“The bones of the team are big. I’m not trying to change much,” he said. “We’re trying to gain a little more predictability in some areas.”

Wroblewski wants the Americans to rely more on their speed while simplifying their defensive scheme to counter Canada’s 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 notable tweaks were evident in how he has 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 has been split. Kessel practiced alongside Kendall Coyne Schofield and Kelly Pannek, while Carpenter was on the line with Abby Roque and Hayley Scamurra. The fourth line featured Grace Zumwinkle, Lacey Eden and Jesse Compher.

That’s a change 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 wore on.

“That’s my belief about how a team should be built, especially at the international level, and that every night you should have different leading lines,” Wroblewski said.

Players have purchased.

“X’s and O’s. There’s no denying we’re going to be a prepared team,” Coyne Schofield said. “We’ve always been a team that likes to play fast, loves to play with speed. And now it’s just putting some structure and style behind that speed.”

Knight called Wroblewski’s approach “night and day difference.”

“I think every coach has his style and the way he wants to teach the game and score a team. It’s different,” Knight said. “It’s exciting to bounce back with his energy and the way he approaches things.”

Wroblewski has a reputation for being intense and detail-oriented, which reflects the aggressive attacking style he demands of his teams. He is best known for the four years he coached the USA Hockey 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 AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. He coached the Ontario Reign for a season and a half before taking a leave of absence in December for personal reasons, then resigned three months later.

Wroblewski declined to discuss what happened, saying he doesn’t want to distract from his team and the tournament.

“At some point I’ll be happy to talk about some of those reasons. I don’t know what that point will be,” Wroblewski said. “But I will tell you that I am in a great space. I have a different outlook on life and where I want to be. And that’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Even if that means spending a few more days in a hotel room.


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