US coach keeping blinders on as he preps for Olympic debut

FILE - In this March 30, 2017, file photo, United States coach Robb Stauber skates during practice in preparation for the IIHF Women's World Championship hockey tournament, in Plymouth, Mich. Stauber can’t miss seeing the Olympic rings painted at center ice, even on the practice rink. The former goalie is doing his best to ignore all the reminders that he is making his head coaching debut on the world’s biggest stage for women’s hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Robb Stauber is making his head coaching debut on the world's biggest stage for women's hockey, and the former goalie has been tasked with ending the Americans' 20-year gold medal drought.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Robb Stauber can't miss seeing the Olympic rings painted at center ice — even on the practice rink. The former goalie is doing his best to ignore all the reminders that he is making his head coaching debut on the world's biggest stage for women's hockey.

Being at the Pyeongchang Games is reminder enough of the monumental task Stauber accepted in trying to end the Americans' 20-year gold medal drought.

So Stauber is making a conscious effort to stick to the approach he has preached to his players of simply staying in the moment.

"This is a hockey tournament," Stauber said after practice Thursday. "I've done hockey personally my entire life. I'm not sure I know anything better, so I know and I know what I see and I know what I believe in and I believe in our players, so I'm sticking to that focus. I personally don't want to get caught up in the Olympics. I enjoy it. I remember watching it as a kid. I get all that stuff."

This isn't Stauber's first Olympics. He was an assistant in 2014 when the Americans blew a 2-0 lead and lost in overtime to their biggest rival, Canada. But Stauber, who played 62 NHL games in stints with the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres, accepted the job last May knowing exactly what USA Hockey expected from him.

"The drought's going to end," Stauber said. "It might as well end now. I mean it's going to end, and I think we have the players to do it, and I like our approach."

Katey Stone coached the Americans in Sochi, and Ken Klee coached the United States to consecutive world championships before being ousted in March 2017.

Stauber had only been head coach of the Minnesota Whitecaps for the 2015-16 season. He was goalie coach at the University of Minnesota, helping the men win back-to-back national titles in 2002 and 2003. He was goalie coach with the Minnesota-Duluth women for four seasons capped by the 2008 national championship.

Since 2010, the native of Duluth, Minnesota, has been involved with the U.S. women's national team as one of the first hires by Reagan Carey after she took over as director of women's hockey by USA Hockey in August 2010. The general manager of the Olympic team had watched games with Stauber, getting the chance to learn how he watches games and his vision for his teams.

Carey turned to Stauber last May after he guided the Americans to their fourth straight world championship and eighth in the last 10 years. She said his attention to detail formed by his experience as a goaltender will help Stauber now.

"Being head coach is a different level of pressure, but his training whether as an athlete, I think as a coach and just his approach to things really attention to detail and keeping things calm and consistent (I) have zero concerns about his ability to manage the Olympic games any different than he has any of the world championships or camps or events before this," Carey said.

The Americans have embraced Stauber's approach. It's why they are talking only about Sunday's game against Finland and not a preliminary round rematch with Canada on Tuesday. The end goal is playing for a gold medal on Feb. 22.

"We're not searching for the inner strength anymore," captain Meghan Duggan said. "We spent the last four years preparing ourselves for these games, and the number one thing for our team is we focus on ourselves. That's it. Our first game is against Finland on the 11th and that's who we've been preparing for since we got here, that's where our focus is right now."

Stauber has changed up how the Americans play. He wants them skating fast, playing off each other to score. The Americans struggled to score in December as they wrapped up an exhibition tour against Canada scoring only three goals while losing four games.

Over the past month, Stauber has seen improvement.

"The past month we see some things that we love and sometimes not only do we like it, we're almost surprised by some of that imagination and creativity, how they're feeding off each other," Stauber said. "It's like, 'Wait.' When we're a little surprised, I wonder what others might think."

It's almost time for the Americans, and Stauber, to prove what they can do.

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More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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