Flyers coach Laviolette recalls his frustration in Turin

Peter Laviolette and the U.S. hockey team had a rough time at the 2006 Olympics, finishing eighth.
Peter Laviolette and the U.S. hockey team had a rough time at the 2006 Olympics, finishing eighth.
Posted: February 16, 2010

FOUR YEARS ago, Peter Laviolette had plenty to think about on the 9-hour flight back to the United States from Turin, Italy.

When his plane's wheels touched down on the runway, Laviolette was left with just one thought:

"I came back and I thought: 'Mission not accomplished,' " Laviolette said.

As the head coach of the United States' men's hockey team at the 2006 Winter Olympics, it was hard for him to feel otherwise. An eighth-place showing equaled the United States' worst ever in ice hockey - with or without NHL players.

Kazakhstan, Latvia, Germany and Italy were the only teams to finish behind the U.S., which finished with a 1-3-1 record. Kazakhstan was the Americans' only victory, and they mustered a tie with Latvia to barely advance past the preliminary round.

"I was extremely disappointed," Laviolette said. "You go there with the expectation to win a gold medal. That's why you go. Our guys are leaving [Philadelphia now] saying they're going to win. When you don't, it's frustrating and disappointing. It was a lot of work."

Four years ago, Laviolette was coaching the Carolina Hurricanes. Now the Flyers' coach, Laviolette will be watching the Olympics from his house in Florida with a different worry: his players' health and well-being.

Four of Laviolette's Flyers will represent their respective countries when the puck drops today to start the men's tournament: Chris Pronger and Mike Richards (Canada), Kimmo Timonen (Finland) and Oskars Bartulis (Latvia).

"Do I wish I had [those] players going home to rest? Sure I do," Laviolette said. "In the same sense, I can tell you that it's great hockey. It's the best players in the world that are going out to represent their countries. The hockey is terrific. The Olympics have been around for an awful long time. I'll be excited to watch it. You hope they come home unscathed."

Laviolette, who grew up in suburban Boston, hopes the new Olympic schedule - with three groups of four teams instead of two groups of six teams - will bring back more well-rested players. In Turin, the United States played five games in 6 nights in the preliminary round. With their one quarterfinal matchup (a 4-3 loss to eventual runner-up Finland), the Americans faced off six times in 9 nights.

"It has to help because they're playing two less games," Laviolette explained. "It's a taxing schedule. To go over there, change that many time zones and play - it was a lot compared to what it is this year. There's a big difference in the schedule."

Two fewer games crammed into the 2-week tournament will allow for better competition, Laviolette thinks.

"I think the schedule sets up for more preparation and better hockey where the players don't get so taxed," Laviolette said.

Laviolette, 45, said he struggled most with preparation and lack of time between games. He noted that when games would start at 8:30 p.m., they would leave the rink at 1 a.m. and finally get through security at the Village and to a postgame meal at 3 a.m. That forced him to break down film and come up with a new game plan for a new opponent with a start time sometimes just hours later at 4 in the afternoon.

But Laviolette, who will have to deal with rest issues for his own Flyers down the stretch, didn't make excuses.

To be fair, this year might be just as tough for the United States and coach Ron Wilson. Playing in Canada against the heavily favored and highly skilled Canadians is daunting for any country. Laviolette thinks the U.S. - which has one of the youngest teams in tournament; just three players have Olympic experience - has a bright future, thanks to USA Hockey's National Development Team Program based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"The U.S. is at a point where they're starting to get all of the kids that have gone through that program in Michigan," Laviolette said. "They're getting to the point where they're going to become impact players, whether it's this year or not. They're going to have a bright future because of the kids they're developing.

"I hope they have tremendous success. They certainly have the right guy behind the bench [in Wilson, who also coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs]."

Despite the poor finish, Laviolette had no trouble working his way back into things with the Hurricanes. He enjoyed representing the U.S. but remembered who signed his paycheck.

"We got right back into it [in Carolina]," Laviolette said. "For me, to represent your country, that's a tremendous honor when they ask. In the NHL, these are our lives and our careers, so to shift back into that wasn't that much of a shift. It's not like coming back to Carolina was a letdown for me. That was my priority. This is my career."

Laviolette likened the feeling of leaving Turin to being eliminated from the playoffs. The only difference was, that season, his NHL team didn't bow out. The Hurricanes went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Slap shots

Goaltender Michael Leighton was named the NHL's second star of the week yesterday for his four performances last week. He posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.98 goals against average and .925 save percentage in home-and-home sweeps of the Devils and Canadiens. Leighton is 12-3-1 with the Flyers since he was nabbed off waivers from Carolina on Dec. 17. Chris Pronger (third star, week of Nov. 9) is the only other Flyer to earn the award this season . . . Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman officially told Jeff Carter that his services would not be needed for the Olympics and he was sent home yesterday morning. Carter flew to Vancouver early Sunday morning in case Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf couldn't skate in the Olympics because of an ankle injury.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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