Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan to take charge of Team USA at 2026 Winter Olympics. GETTY IMAGES

Mike Sullivan, who guided the Pittsburgh Penguins to Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017, will take charge of Team USA at Milano-Cortina 2026 as NHL players make their return to the Winter Olympics.

Sullivan, who will continue as Penguins coach, was due to coach the side at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. However, David Quinn stepped in after the NHL withdrew their players from the Games due to China's strict Covid quarantine rules.

USA Hockey’s announcement on Saturday came as no surprise with the Marshfield, Massachusetts native replacing Quinn to lead the men’s national team at the 2025 4 Nations Face-Off before Milano-Cortina.

“I am beyond grateful to have the opportunity to coach Team USA in these two significant international events,” said Sullivan. “It’s been amazing to see the progress we’ve made in hockey in our country over the course of my career. I am honoured to lead our best players and I look forward to the challenge that lies ahead.”

In an 11-year NHL playing career with the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes, Sullivan amassed 136 points - 54 goals and 82 assists - In 709 regular-season games. He also had 12 points in the 34 playoff games.

The 56-year-old has enjoyed far more success in coaching having been named head coach of the Boston Bruins in 2003. He was fired after two seasons before spending almost a decade as an assistant coach at various teams. In December 2015, he replaced Mike Johnston as Penguins head coach and led the side - inspired by Sidney Crosby - to the Stanley Cup title, a rare triumph for a coach hired mid-season.

The Penguins retained their title in 2017 with Sullivan the only American-born head coach to win more than one Stanley Cup. He has 10 winning seasons out of 11 as an NHL head coach, making the playoffs on eight occasions.

“We’re excited to have Mike guiding our teams,” said Team USA general manager Bill Guerin, who previously worked with Sullivan in Pittsburgh. “He is one of the very best coaches in the game and his background, including with international hockey, is well-suited to help put our team in the best position to win.”

Sullivan’s involvement with USA Hockey spans parts of five decades, both on the ice and behind the bench. He served as an assistant coach for Team USA at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics and was head coach at the 2007 IIHF Men’s World Championship in Russia. He was also an assistant coach at the 2008 World Championship in Quebec and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Mike Sullivan leading these two teams,” said Mike Trimboli, president of USA Hockey. "It’s an exciting time for American hockey and with Mike’s leadership, we have a chance to do something special, not only next February, but in the 2026 Olympics as well.”

NHL players will participate in the Olympics for the first time since 2014, when the US finished fourth. The last time Americans tasted Olympic gold was in 1980 in Lake Placid with amateur players, the only previous win coming in 1960.

Former standout goaltender for the New York Rangers, John Vanbiesbrouck, now an assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, also praised the new coach’s resume. “He was going to coach our team in the 2022 Olympics before the pandemic caused the NHL to not participate, so we’re very excited to have him back for the 2026 Games and also for the 4 Nations Faceoff,” he said. “Mike is not only an outstanding coach, but a great human being and leader.”

Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan lifts the Stanley Cup. GETTY IMAGES
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan lifts the Stanley Cup. GETTY IMAGES

With the Milano-Cortina Games less than two years away, Sullivan faces the prospect of going up against Penguins captain Crosby in Italy. Crosby, now 36, has won two Olympic gold medals with Canada and scored the overtime winner as the hosts beat USA in the final at Vancouver 2010.

As well as leading Team USA, the pressure is on Sullivan to get the Penguins back on track after failing to make the playoffs for the last two seasons. Their last post-season series win came back in 2018.

His first big international test will come next February, with the US scheduled to meet Finland, Sweden and Canada in the NHL 4 Nations Face-Off tournament.