Sporting Life

Russian holiday

Some Yale coaching helps the USA win a World Junior Championship.

Alex Goldberger ’08 is an Olympics researcher at NBC.

Nancie Battaglia

Nancie Battaglia

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During the winter holiday break, as the Yale men’s hockey team was making road trips to Massachusetts, the influence of Yale hockey was being felt half a world away at the World Junior Championship. There, in Ufa, Russia, Tim Taylor—the winningest hockey coach in Yale history—and current Yale assistant coach Dan Muse helped the US team win gold for just the third time in the tournament’s 37-year existence.

Taylor, who was removed as Yale’s head coach following the 2005–06 season, has spent the past four years as director of player personnel for the US National Junior Team. It’s a job that requires the same keen eye for spotting young talent that he used for three decades in recruiting players to New Haven. He is tasked with assembling a roster of the best US teenagers for the annual World Juniors—which, though obscure in the United States, is a high point on the Canadian sporting calendar and often a launching pad for NHL stardom.

Muse, a 30-year-old in his fourth season working under current Yale coach Keith Allain ’80, had told his boss he wanted someday to be a part of the USA Hockey staff. When Phil Housley, the former NHL great, was named head coach of the US juniors last June, Allain (who has been head coach of the juniors three times) recommended Muse for the role of video coordinator.

Road trips inevitably present challenges, but Ufa, an industrial city located just west of Siberia, was a unique experience. The temperature was 20 below zero when the team arrived on December 24. The environment proved great for team bonding, however. On December 25, the group held a Christmas dinner in a hotel meeting room, exchanging gifts and jokes despite the fact that their host country was still weeks away from celebrating Orthodox Christmas.

“You didn’t have that same kind of Christmas feel that you’d have in the United States or other places around the world, but we were together as a team, and that’s what mattered,” Muse says. “You can pinpoint a lot of different factors for why we won this thing, but team cohesion was definitely a big one.” The US players dropped a pair of one-goal games to Canada and Russia in the preliminary round but rallied to win their final four games, including a rematch with Canada in the semifinals and a meeting with defending champion Sweden in the gold medal game.

Taylor, who coached the United States at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, called the win “probably as big a hockey thrill as I’ve had.” Now 70, he says he misses many parts of coaching, particularly the on-ice teaching every day at practice. But he is content in his new role, and encouraged by the unprecedented success of recent US teams. “We’ve only had three gold medals total since World Juniors started way back in the 70s,” Taylor says. “But in the last four years, we’ve got two gold medals and a bronze. I’m pretty proud of that.”

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