Coaching Package: Seoul Searching

USA Hockey Looking For The Right Person To Lead The U.S. Women’s Olympic Team To Gold In South Korea

When Ken Klee was named the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, it came as a bit of a surprise to the women’s hockey community. It even surprised Klee, himself.

But for Reagan Carey, the selection of the veteran NHL defenseman was the right move at the right time. After his debut at the head coach of the U.S. Under-22 Select Team at the August Festival in 2014, she felt like she found the right person for the job.

“He has a great demeanor and is willing to channel everybody’s different skill sets and opinions into one overall message,” said Carey, who knew Klee from her days working as the director of fan development and youth marketing with the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers.

“He has a vision for what he thinks is important, but he is still willing to embrace other people’s opinions and put his own spin on it.”

When Klee stepped on the ice for that first camp, he didn’t know much about the players, or the women’s game in general. So before accepting the job, he made a few phone calls. One was to former NHL teammate Pierre Turgeon, whose daughter Elizabeth was a member of the U.S. squad prior to her passing in 2010.

“He told me right away that the girls are great and skilled, and that the sky’s the limit,” he recalled. “He was right on and I’ve enjoyed every day. It’s great [to be the coach] when you have the best players in the world, and they just love to play.”

So far the move seems to have paid off. Klee has been at the helm of the team that captured both the 2015 Four Nations tournament and cruised to its fifth IIHF Women’s World Championship in six years.

And while Carey is not ready to name a head coach for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team just yet, as the program reaches the halfway mark in the next Olympic cycle, the Indianapolis native has demonstrated the qualities that Carey feels are essential to lead the U.S. at the next Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“Keeping ideas fresh while maintaining consistency in our vision and core values is critical to the culture and success of this team,” said Carey, who joined USA Hockey as the director of women’s hockey after the Vancouver Games in 2010.

“Nobody’s set for our Olympic staff at this point, but after the season we’ll begin to ramp up those conversations.”

A big part of the discussion is finding the right person to help the U.S. get over the hump. Since women’s hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998, the U.S. has beaten Canada only twice, with both victories coming in the inaugural tournament in Nagano, Japan.

In Sochi, the U.S. suffered perhaps its most devastating defeat, letting a two-goal lead slip away in the final three and a half minutes before losing Canada in overtime.

In such a tightly contested rivalry, the difference between gold and silver is razor thin. The pressure that these women are under is intense, and having a coach who has been in that type of a pressure cooker can be invaluable. That’s something that Klee brings to the table.

With more than 900 NHL games under his belt, Klee knows the type of pressure these women are under, especially when it comes to a likely winner-takes-all showdown with Canada in the gold-medal game.

“He can really relate to our players and the stress that they’re under,” Carey said. “It’s important for me to have a coaching staff that is skilled as well as very positive and very supportive. We know that we have to have the skill and the speed but if at the end of the day we don’t believe that we can do it then it doesn’t matter what we have in our tool kit.”

And having that experience is something that would serve Klee well. Over the course of his career he has worn the red, white and blue as a player, skating in two World Championships and at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

“Without trying to get too far ahead of myself, the job I have now could lead into that,” said Klee, who has signed on to coach the U.S. Women’s National Team at this year’s IIHF Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, British Columbia. “It’s a fantastic opportunity and the chance to represent your country whether as a player or a coach is awesome.”

Retired NHL defenseman Ken Klee led the U.S. Women’s National Team to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship and has signed on to coach this year’s squad in Kamloops, British Columbia.Retired NHL defenseman Ken Klee led the U.S. Women’s National Team to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship and has signed on to coach this year’s squad in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Four years ago USA Hockey made history when it named long-time Harvard University coach Katey Stone to lead the U.S. Women’s Team. It marked the first time a woman had been named to coach an Olympic team.

Many in the game hailed Stone’s hiring as a significant breakthrough for women in the game. Even Stone, herself, was hopeful that the move would lead to more women coaches in the game.

“We have to grow our game on many levels,” she said. “You see the most growth with players, but now we really need to start taking care of some of these coaches and put them in a position to get better so they can succeed at the college level and the national level.”

That hasn’t happened at a rate quick enough for many advocates of women coaches. In addition to Stone, there are only seven women currently serving as head coaches at the Div. I level, including Olympic veterans Katie King at Boston College and Jenny Potter, who recently took the reins at The Ohio State University.

For most players who reach the highest level of the game, finding the right coach is less about gender and has more to do with who can help them achieve their ultimate goal, which is winning Olympic gold.

“For me, I didn’t care who it is, I just wanted the best. If we’re going to win a gold medal, we need the best staff, whether that’s a male or a female,” said three-time Olympian Natalie Darwitz, who is now in her first season as a head coach at Div. III Hamline College.

“Gender shouldn’t matter. It should be who’s the most qualified person to do the job and can squeeze the most out of every player and make them collectively into the best team.”

USA Hockey has stayed true to that philosophy over the years, enlisting an impressive stable of coaches to work with the women’s program, including talented American coaches such as Brett Strot, Bob Deraney, Joel Johnson, Maura Crowell and Katie Lachapelle, to name but a few.

And right now it’s hard to argue with the cardre of coaches that Carey has enlisted to work with the U.S. Women’s program. In addition to Klee, former NHL veterans Jeff Halpern, Robb Stauber and Chris Tamer have signed on to work with the women’s program. Together they have more than 43 years of NHL experience, playing in 2,600 career games.

“It’s definitely great to have a lot of NHL coaches in practice and on our bench,” said 21-year-old forward Alex Carpenter, whose father Bobby played and coached in the NHL. “They know so much about the game and they had the highest level coaches that they played for. I think they’re able to help us with the little things that we’re not able to pick up on our own.”

Still, that leaves Carey in a tough spot. As the director of women’s hockey she is committed to growing the women’s game and providing opportunities for more females to coach in the U.S. program. She also has a responsibility to find the best coach possible to help bring Olympic gold back to the U.S.

“In my role as the general manager of our National Team I’m focused on finding the right person for the job, and gender shouldn’t lead that search,” said Carey, who has increased the number of female coaches working at USA Hockey’s Player Development Camps each summer.

“On the bigger scope as the director of women’s hockey, I am focused on bringing more female coaches into the sport. … Certainly we’re doing a lot to ensure that women have opportunities in the sport at the highest level. But those are two separate missions.”



10 Qualities Of A Good Youth Hockey Coach

A good hockey coach does more than just teach his or her players how to skate, stick handle and shoot. They teach important life lessons that players will carry with them long after they’ve hung up their skates. Here are 10 qualities of a good youth hockey coach.

10. Communicative
Your players and parents are not mind readers. Set the tone early in the season by telling everyone about your coaching philosophy and what you expect from them. And remember, communication is a two-way street.

9. Supportive
Hockey is a game of mistakes. Your players are going to make mistakes on the ice just as you’ll make mistakes on the bench. If your players know that you support them, they’ll support you with a strong effort.

8. Strong
Don’t bend at the first sign of dissension in the ranks. Let your players and parents know what you will and will not tolerate. Set guidelines and follow them regardless of the situation.

7. Consistent
Rules that apply to your fourth liner should also apply to your star player. Hold all players accountable to the same standard.

6. Unselfish
Coaching youth hockey is not about your win-loss record or championship trophy case. It’s about developing your players and making sure they have a great experience.

5. Calm
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Players and parents are going to follow your lead. Lose control in the bench and watch how quickly your players and parents will follow suit.

4. Organized
Ice time is expensive. Don't waste it standing around a dry erase board explaining a drill. There's plenty of time to go over that in the locker room. Be prepared and create your practice plans in advance and get them into the hands of your fellow coaches so you're all on the same page when you hit
the ice.

3. Knowledgeable
Not every youth hockey coach is an ex-NHLer. In fact, the vast majority aren’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t become a good coach. Be a student of the game. There’s a ton of great materials available that can help you develop your players.

2. Patient
Players learn and develop at different rates. Good coaches challenge their players while realizing that every kid is different. Zach Parise didn’t become a superstar overnight. Development is a process that takes time. If you find yourself working on systems with your Mite team, you may be getting a little ahead of yourself.

1. Fun
Even NHL players like to have fun. If you’re coaching your Squirt team like it’s the Montreal Canadiens you may be missing the true meaning of youth hockey. If you want your players to show enthusiasm, you better be ready to bring it to the rink. Enthusiasm is contagious.



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