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Olympic hockey decision could have ripple effects for U’s Frost

For Brad Frost, the women’s hockey coach at the University of Minnesota, it’s been a fabulous season so far.

For Brad Frost, the women’s hockey coach at the University of Minnesota, it’s been a fabulous season so far.

His 21-2-1 Gophers, ranked No. 1 in both national polls, haven’t lost since Oct. 26. Freshman twins Monique and Jocelyn Lamoureux, of Grand Forks, N.D., and Shattuck-St. Mary’s, turned into the team’s top two scorers, ahead of even standout senior Gigi Marvin. The only major injury has been Marvin’s banged-up shoulder, which leaves her questionable for this weekend’s big series with No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth at Ridder Arena.

So, other than winning a national championship, how could things go any better for Frost? Ask him next week, if a certain thing breaks his way.

Next Tuesday, USA Hockey is tentatively scheduled to announce the coach of the 2010 women’s Olympic Team. According to USA Hockey women’s director Michele Amidon, the finalists are Mark Johnson of Wisconsin, Harvard’s Katey Stone, and Jackie Barto of Ohio State. If it’s Stone and she gets to pick her assistant coach, Frost will be her guy.

Stone made that clear in late November, a few weeks after she coached Team USA to victory at the Four Nations Cup, with Frost alongside as an assistant. Harvard was in town to play the Gophers, and Stone told a Power Play Club luncheon crowd at Jax Cafe that if she got the Olympic job, Frost was coming with her. (Full disclosure: My wife, Rachel Blount of the Star Tribune, emceeded that luncheon, and we sat at a table with Stone and Frost.)

Frost chuckled when reminded of that this week. So how likely is this to happen?

Fate depends in part on whether USA Hockey picks woman
It depends on whether USA Hockey is ready to name a woman to coach the women’s team, which would be a first, and whether that woman will be allowed to choose her staff. Frost said he hasn’t told athletic director Joel Maturi, and won’t, unless the pieces fall into place.

Ben Smith, formerly the men’s coach at Northeastern University in Boston, led the U.S. team to gold, silver and bronze, respectively, in the first three Olympic tournaments.

Smith left after the disappointing U.S. finish in Turin in 2006. Since then, USA Hockey tried out the three candidates in international tournaments. Frost has coached against them all this season, and isn’t just being diplomatic when he says, “You can’t go wrong with any of the candidates.”

Johnson, of course, is the 1980 Miracle on Ice gold medalist, the son of legendary “Badger” Bob Johnson and the hugely successful coach of the Badger women, the NCAA champions in 2006 and ’07. His Team USA tryout featured silver medals at Four Nations in 2006 and the world championships in 2007. He just returned from Germany, where he coached the U.S. under-18 team to a world gold medal.

That’s a lot stacking in Johnson’s favor. For what it’s worth, USA Hockey’s headquarters in Colorado Springs are on Bob Johnson Drive, and it’s tough to bet against a legacy whose surname appears in the mailing address. But both Stone and Barto offer strong credentials, too.

At Harvard, Stone has won more than 300 games, coached nine Olympians and six winners of the Patty Kazmaier Award, which goes to the best player in women’s college hockey. (Angela Ruggiero and Julie Chu, from the Blaine Residency Program, both did the Olympian/Kazmeier double for Stone.) And boy, is Stone impressive in person. At the Power Play luncheon, when someone asked Frost to name his biggest disappointment of the season, Stone, referring to their game a few hours later, piped up, “Hopefully today.” The booster club crowd loved Stone’s moxie. (Postscript: The Gophers won, 3-2.)     

Barto, then skating under her maiden name Glatu, starred for Providence College and coached the Friars before moving to Ohio State to start the program in 1999. Barto lacks the college coaching cred of Johnson and Stone; the Buckeyes are still looking for their first WCHA championship. But Barto coached Team USA to world championship gold last year and a silver at Four Nations in 2007.

Frost praises Stone — and possible front-runner Johnson
Naturally, Frost is rooting for Stone, whom he calls “a great motivator … certainly a great, great person and a great hockey coach.” But Frost added that Johnson’s Olympic experience gives him a powerful background to draw from. And he admires Barto’s integrity and character, which her players reflect.

Whomever USA Hockey picks, the job won’t start until August, when the pre-Olympic camp opens in Blaine, allowing the staff to finish their seasons. What’s not clear is whether the coaching assignments will end after Vancouver or go multi-year. Frost, if chosen, might only need a one-year leave of absence. But Frost hasn’t asked, and won’t, unless Stone or someone higher up makes him an offer.

“I don’t know if anybody knows if USA Hockey will pick the assistants,” Frost said. “She may not have the authority to do it.”

Even if Frost stays put, his own staff may be affected. Assistant coach Natalie Darwitz and volunteer goalie coach Megan Van Beusekom are both in the Blaine program. If one or both make the Olympic team — and Darwitz is close to a lock — Frost might be scrambling.