Herr Heads USA's U-18 Team at HlinkaPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Beginning next Monday, the U.S. Under-18 team will participate in the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia. In preparation for that tournament, the U.S. U-18 team held a handful of practices at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex earlier this week. Twenty-two players took to the ice under the direction of head coach Matt Herr, a former Washington center who played with the Caps in 1988-99 and 2000-01. Herr, the head hockey coach at The Kent School in Connecticut, was an assistant for the U-18 team at the Hlinka tournament last August. In Herr’s days with the Caps, the team practiced at Piney Orchard in Odenton, Md. The team’s current facility is quite a departure from its comparatively spartan environs of yesteryear. “I told them, ‘You guys are lucky,’ says Herr. “When I was a pro we had never had stuff like this. To have our guys to be able to come here is fantastic. For an NHL team – George and the whole organization – to open its doors to a USA Hockey Under-18 team gives these guys a chance to see what it’s like to be a pro, maybe have that dream and have a chance to get closer to it.” A native of Hackensack, N.J., Herr played his prep hockey at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut where he served as the team captain. After that, he played for the legendary Red Berenson for four years at the U. of Michigan. After his brief NHL career ended, he spent one season playing in Germany. Herr has been teaching and coaching at Kent since 2005, and he’s been involved in USA Hockey for as long. “I’ve been doing USA Hockey now for about seven years,” says Herr. “It started with the local festivals in my state and then it went to the national festival. I’ve been coaching every summer for a week, giving my time back and I’m lucky enough to be given an opportunity to be a head coach of the national team. I was with Sean Tremblay as an assistant to the U-16 team and then I was with the Hlinka team as an assistant last year and now this year with that experience hopefully we can put a medal together.” For Herr, the biggest difference between his usual gig at the Kent School and his summer work with USA Hockey is the level of the players he is coaching. “First of all, you’re working with the best players in your age group,” says Herr of his Hlinka team. “It’s nice because these guys all want to be the best. We had Boo Nieves at Kent, and he was a second-round pick this year by the Rangers, and he played in the Hlinka. But to work with all these type of players and to see their skill and their attitude, they all want to get better and they all want to learn. And that’s fantastic. “As a coach, to have that kind of skill and drive that these guys have to become pros or get to the next level is fun. Every coach wants to work with talented players. My goal as a coach is to help these guys progress. We only have two weeks, which isn’t much. But if I can give them one thing that may help their career and move on – whether it’s socially or whether it’s giving them a good book. Some of these guys have never read a book. Maybe I can help them find a good book that they like. It can be anything from a pointer on the ice to maybe something socially.” A guy can do a lot of reading on a flight from the States to the Czech Republic. What kind of book might Herr recommend? “For example, ‘Team of Rivals,’” he says. “I’m a big Abraham Lincoln fan. I taught U.S. history at Kent. We’re going to go to the Arlington National Cemetery and try to let these guys understand what it’s like to be an American. It’s fantastic that the Olympics is going on. There’s not a better team for the U.S. to try to bring home a medal with everything that’s going on in the world. It should be fun. I’m also trying to get these guys to realize what it means to be an American and the pride they should have in playing for their country.” Team USA plays Russia on Monday, the Czechs on Tuesday and Finland on Wednesday of next week in preliminary play. The eight teams at the tournament will vie for positioning in Friday’s games and the medal games will be played next Saturday. Team USA has medaled at the Hlinka 10 times since the tournament began in 1991. The Americans won gold in 2003 and Team USA finished fifth last summer.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was on the ice with his teammates on Friday for an informal skate at the team’s Kettler Capitals Iceplex. But that session could be Ovechkin’s last in Arlington for a while. The left wing leaves today for his native Russia. If the NHL and the NHLPA manage to avoid a