Coaches keep busy in summer

Joel Johnson will lead the U.S. U18 women’s hockey team and Nadine Muzerall will be an assistant coach at the Canadian U18 selection camp.

Gophers women's hockey assistant coach Nadine Muzerall talks to the forwards during a game against North Dakota Nov. 16, 2013.

Eric Miller, Gopher Sports

Gophers women’s hockey assistant coach Nadine Muzerall talks to the forwards during a game against North Dakota Nov. 16, 2013.

Betsy Helfand

Joel Johnson and Nadine Muzerall are used to sharing the same bench as coaches for the Gophers women’s hockey team.

This month, however, country loyalties have pitted the two on opposite sides.

Muzerall, a Gophers assistant coach and Ontario native, was recently named an assistant coach for Canada’s national women’s under-18 team selection camp. And in May, Johnson, an associate head coach, was named the U.S. women’s national under-18 team’s head coach.

“I think [it] is a tremendous honor for them and speaks very highly of who they are as coaches,” Gophers head coach Brad Frost said.

Though both have coached for their respective countries in the past, the pair said they weren’t expecting their most recent opportunities.

Muzerall will head to Hockey Canada’s selection camp in Calgary, Alberta, from Aug. 7-17.

Last year, she served as an assistant coach at a selection camp, which she said gave her an idea of what to expect this year.

At the camp, the 42 participants will be split into two teams, and Muzerall, who works with the forwards at Minnesota, will be tasked with leading a group of defensemen.

She said the camp will involve practices, off-ice training and mental skills, among other things.

Following both countries’ camps, the two rosters will be pared down and will face off at the 2014 Women’s Under-18 Series in Calgary, Alberta, from Aug. 20-24.

The players chosen will also compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship in early 2015.

Building a team for a short-term tournament requires a different approach than recruiting a college team.

“As a coaching staff, we sit down and say, ‘Here’s the kind of team we want to have,’” Johnson said. “Some people think it’s just an all-star team, and it’s really not. You’re trying to find specific pieces that are going to come together.”

Johnson said he was, first and foremost, looking for players who are good people on and off the ice.

“In a short-term tournament, you just don’t have enough time as a team and as a coach to be dealing with challenges and frustrations,” he said.

Johnson has been an assistant coach with the U18 team and said that experience has given him a better idea of “what this year’s team will go through.”

Working with younger hockey players will also provide a different set of challenges, but Muzerall said she thought the maturity level would be higher than normal for the age group because the girls are aspiring to make a selective team.

Making the team, Muzerall said, “opens up a lot of doors” for the players.

“They’re going to be highly exposed [to] many coaches,” she said.

That includes Frost, who plans to attend the first two days of the U18 series later this month.

Many members of the Gophers once played for their respective U18 teams, including 2014 Olympians Amanda Kessel and Lee Stecklein.

“It comes at a great time to get to know the younger girls and see what the future of NCAA [hockey] or future colleges in Canada [are] going to look like,” Muzerall said. “Most of these girls will probably play in the Olympics later on in life.”