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John Vanbiesbrouck is GM of Team USA, but still watching the Florida Panthers



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John Vanbiesbrouck, better known as the ‘Beezer,’ was the first goalie in the history of the Florida Panthers and led to the team to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals. He is now the GM of the Team USA men’s hockey team at the Beijing Winter Games. // File photos

Former Florida Panthers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck has had a busy few months.

When the recent omicron variant of the coronavirus ended the World Junior Championships prematurely and also put a halt to any NHL participation in the Beijing Winter Games, that meant some extra — and welcomed — work.

Vanbiesbrouck was managing the United States’ entry at World Juniors but when that was called off in December, he started looking at putting together an alternate Team USA roster for the Beijing Winter Olympics.

When the NHL officially pulled out of Beijing, USA Hockey quickly went to Plan B.

That meant replacing Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin with Vanbiesbrouck who helped put together a roster filled with college-age players as well as veterans playing in the AHL and pro leagues overseas.

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”The Olympics is a huge stage,” Vanbiesbrouck told Florida Hockey Now from his hotel in Los Angeles before departing for Beijing.

”There is a great contrast of players and these Games will be unique in that way. We have really been bolstered by our NCAA crew who are pushing hard to be NHLers and that’s right around the corner. As an insider, you are optimistic and encouraged with what you see. As an outsider, you wonder what this is going to look like. This could be one of the most uncertain tournaments going in, but it’s a pretty equal level.”

Team USA begins play with the first of three preliminary games Thursday against China at 8:10 a.m. (USA Network).

Although the US team has not had a whole lot of prep time together, Vanbiesbrouck says “there is a high level of excitement” amongst his team.

Where Team USA will finish when the medal round concludes obviously is not known. They are currently a long-shot to win Gold with Russia a betting favorite.

Vanbiesbrouck also says he has been playing a lot of attention to what the Florida Panthers are doing — “we have Florida fans in the household so they are hard to avoid” — and is keeping a close eye on goalie Spencer Knight, a player whom he heaped plenty of praise on at the 2019 NHL Draft.

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