THREE MONTHS into the job as head coach of the U.S. National Under-18 Team, Kurt Kleinendorst is quickly making his mark on the National Team Development Program.
The Grand Rapids, Minn., native, who spent the past nine seasons in the New Jersey Devils’ organization including the past three as the head coach of the Lowell Devils, sat down with USA Hockey Magazine to talk about the transition, the challenges and the rewards of coaching some of most talented teenaged hockey players in the country.
What made you decide to leave coaching at the professional ranks and coach at the NTDP?
I was reassigned within the Devils organization and [coaching at the NTDP] was just an opportunity to come into a fresh program that has a tremendous reputation and help develop young players.
It wasn’t an easy decision. I was with the Devils for a long time and Lou (Lamoriello) and I go back 30 years. Any time you are making those kind of decisions, they don’t come easy, but at the end of the day this just sounded like a great opportunity.
You joined the NTDP coaching staff fairly late. How has the learning curve been for you?
When I first came here I didn’t know what to expect, but I was able to rely on (second-year assistant coach) John Wroblewski. Coming in I didn’t know what billet parents were or how they were part of the program or having our kids attend at Pioneer High School. Before, all I had to worry about was my players coming to the rink and preparing them on a practice day for a game day. But after a few weeks, I really feel like I have a grasp of what this job entails.
Has it been what you figured it would be?
I really don’t know that I was prepared for what this job entailed, initially. I’m just schooled basically to coach. All my professional coaching life, I just coached. My players weren’t kids; they were professionals, young adults. That was the biggest adjustment.
You’re involved with the billets, you’re involved with their academics and you’re pushing them socially to be good citizens, which these kids are. Those are three issues that were never part of my agenda before.
It’s almost overwhelming at first. The hockey has been the easy part, but it’s just a small piece of the puzzle. I’ve finally had a chance to put a lot of energy into figuring out where I want to be and what I want to do here.
What are the biggest difference between coaching pros and coaching at the NTDP?
At the pro level, it really becomes a grind and you spend an awful lot of energy trying to motivate guys to reach their potential. The last thing you have to do here is push buttons, because these kids push their own buttons. They’re excited to be here, motivated to be here. It’s fresh every day and they get pushed every day.
What has been the biggest surprise, so far?
The fact that they’re 17 years old! Honestly, I shake my head. I am just amazed that these kids are just 17 years old and are capable of doing what they’re doing. I mean, this is a good group, a talented group. When we’re firing on all cylinders, we’re an awfully good team. We haven’t even played our peers yet. We’re playing guys that are four or five years older than us. Our kids are able to go out there and not just compete but do very well.
Coach of the Month
When Ron Rhynard decides to get involved with something, he doesn’t just put his toes in the water. He likes to jump all the way in. He reads, studies and asks questions to prepare for an experience, like coaching in the Amateur Hockey Association of Mt. Pleasant.
As a result, Rhynard and his coaching staff led the 2008-09 AHAMP Bantam B Team to wins at the Cabin Fever Tournament, Michigan Amateur Hockey Association District 5 Championship, and as far as the semifinal of the state tournament.
Part of Rhynard’s success is his competitive nature, brought out by school sports and kept alive today in his coaching and participation in adult recreational hockey leagues. It is that nature that keeps him looking for ways to refine his coaching process and get better results.
However, Rhynard makes sure he never lets his competitive nature get in the way of his job: teaching kids the game of hockey. He gives every one of his 18 players, including two girls, the chance to participate and improve their skills as an individual and a team.
Carlson Returns To Defend Challenge Crown
Mark Carlson, the head coach and general manager of the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, has been named the head coach of the 2009 U.S. Junior Select Team that will compete at the World Junior A Challenge.
The event will take place Nov. 1-8 in Summerside, P.E.I.
It will be Carlson’s second stint behind the bench after guiding Team USA to the title at the 2008 World Junior A Challenge.
Joining the U.S. coaching staff will be Jeff Blashill, head coach and general manager of the USHL’s Indiana Ice, and Andy Jones, assistant coach of the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede.
The World Junior A Challenge is in its fourth year, and the U.S. will be competing in the tournament for the third consecutive year. The U.S. also garnered a third-place finish in 2007.
The 2009 World Junior A Challenge will feature Belarus, Canada East, Canada West, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
Go to USAHockey.com for the team roster and schedule of games.