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2018 Winter Olympics: Stauber leaves imprint on US women's hockey team

U.S. Olympic women's hockey coach Robb Stauber listens during a news conference Wednesday in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Carlos Gonzalez / Minneapolis Star Tribune

Armchair quarterbacks and Twitter general managers have been less than kind to Duluth native Robb Stauber, head coach of the United States Olympic women's hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

First, Stauber and his staff were chastised for adding players in October and November to the initial 23-player national team that was announced in April. Then came the real fire and fury when Patty Kazmaier Award winner Alex Carpenter was left off the final Olympic roster.

Stauber was called dumb. His competence was questioned. He was accused of sabotage. Someone asked if it was too early to fire him as coach. Team USA had yet to leave for Pyeongchang, and some of the most ardent supporters of U.S. women's hockey already were writing the team off.

Stauber's response: Say what?

"I don't pay attention to the outside world. Never have, never will," the Hobey Baker Award winner and former NHLer said. "There is no value to it. None of it matters to me.

"Any athlete, whether it's an Olympic athlete or an NHL player, you cannot pay attention to what's going on in the outside world. You cannot and (still) be your best."

Stauber and company may be facing unprecedented pressure from that outside world to win gold at the 2018 Olympic Games, but none of it compares to the pressure all of USA Hockey is putting on itself to end a 20-year gold medal drought in Olympic women's hockey.

Since capturing gold in Nagano, Japan in 1998, the U.S. has watched its biggest rival, Canada, win gold at the last four Winter Olympics. The Americans have settled for silver on three occasions (2002, 2010 and 2014) with a disappointing bronze coming in 2006.

Stauber said he and his staff could have played it safe for Pyeongchang and did what USA Hockey has always done in the past, but that hasn't been their approach.

"We have to transform ourselves to give ourselves a better chance at winning," said Stauber, who graduated from Duluth Denfeld in 1986 before backstopping the Minnesota Gophers from 1986-89. "Our goal was to make sure we had the best team possible to leave South Korea with what we think we're capable of and that's a gold medal."

Pyeongchang is Stauber's second Olympic Games, having served as the goalie coach for Team USA in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. He most recently led the U.S. to a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF Women's World Championship in Plymouth, Mich., after serving as an assistant/goalie coach on four world championship squads.

USA defenseman Sidney Morin, who along with goaltender Maddie Rooney are the two players with Minnesota Duluth ties on the team, said Stauber's focus and determination are tough to miss. He has a task to do as head coach, and means business, she said.

"We all have one goal in mind and we're willing to do whatever it takes to reach that goal," said Morin, who wrapped up a four-year career at UMD in 2016-17. "He's a good role model for us to look up to and trust going into these Games."

"You just tell he has this huge drive to win," said Rooney, the Bulldogs junior goalie who is taking a sabbatical from UMD in 2017-18. "He's very competitive. You just know how much he wants to win."

Rooney said the changes that were made in October and November were tough, but Stauber and his staff — consisting of general manager Reagan Carey, associate head coach Brett Strot and assistant coach Paul Mara — made it clear to the players that the 23-player national team announced in April was not the Olympic roster.

The players knew changes could be made and sure enough, there was a shakeup despite the team winning three of its first four games against Canada and a gold medal at the Four Nations Cup in Tampa, Fla.

Stauber said the squad was not progressing and materializing the way it was projected to, so he decided to go back and take a look at a few of the players who were initially on the fringe of making the national team.

The first addition in October was Boston College freshman defenseman Cayle Barnes. In November, after the Four Nations win, Morin and former Boston College forward Haley Skarupa were added.

The U.S. went 0-4 against Canada after the November moves, but all three additions made the final roster while Carpenter, another former Boston College forward, former Wisconsin forward Annie Pankowski and former Minnesota defenseman Megan Bozek were cut.

Carpenter and Bozek were not just members of the 2014 Olympic squad, but two of the team's top scorers. Carpenter had a team-high four goals in Sochi and Bozek led all USA defensemen with five points.

The U.S. begins play Sunday with a preliminary game against Finland at 1:40 a.m. CT. The gold medal game is scheduled for 10:10 p.m. Feb. 22.

Between now and then, we'll see who was correct: Stauber or the naysayers.

"We get a chance to show the world what we've been working on over the last year. I suspect it's going to look different, it's going to feel different and we're excited to play," Stauber said.

"I believe in what we're doing. I've seen the team grow like no other team. It's not been easy. I've seen the struggles. I've been part of the struggles. We've all seen it. We've been a part of it. But that's what it's supposed to be. It's not supposed to be easy. It shouldn't be easy. You shouldn't be able to just go step on the ice.

"We've done a lot of great things. We've transformed how we look at the game."

Team USA schedule

Sunday: USA vs. Finland, 1:40 a.m. (NBCSN)

Tuesday: USA vs. OAR, 6:10 a.m. (NBCSN)

Wednesday: USA vs. Canada, 9:10 p.m. (NBCSN)

Feb. 17: Quarterfinals

Feb. 18: Semifinals

Feb. 21-22: Medal round

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317