The recent Under-22 Series concluded in Lake Placid, New York with the U.S. Women’s Under-22 Select Team beating Canada two out of three games to take the series.
The performance on the ice was impressive, but what may not have drawn as much attention was the four former NHL players who were part of the group that was coaching them. They were head coach Ken Klee and assistant coaches Jeff Halpern, Robb Stauber and Chris Tamer, who combined for more than 43 years in the NHL and 2,600 career games.
Throughout the National Festival (an annual development camp) and the series, the players were instructed during practice sessions and supplemented with the use of video, where these coaches were able to enhance some of the players’ habits and techniques.
“Our goal is to become better every time we are together and Ken, Robb, Chris and Jeff have all applied their experiences and knowledge to help our players achieve that goal,” said Reagan Carey, director of women’s hockey at USA Hockey. “These former NHL players and our elite players have a lot in common and it’s great to see so many aspects of our USA Hockey programs working together on the ice for a common goal.”
Alex Carpenter’s father, Bobby, played and coached in the NHL as well and as she can attest that there is a definite benefit to having these individuals on hand to fine-tune their game. Growing up around the NHL taught her how to respect the game and how to manage and improve the little things that will help a player reach their fullest potential at the highest levels.
“It’s definitely great to have a lot of NHL coaches in practice and on our bench,” said Carpenter. “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.”
The advantage isn’t always measurable immediately, but the instant respect of the players is evident. Their willingness to take instruction and learn is something that comes instinctively from these players who are striving to make any small advancement in their games that could ultimately make them a valuable member of the National Team program and potentially a future Olympian.
It’s also safe to say that the growth of women’s hockey is gaining momentum and the talent level is improving and getting deeper constantly. The coaches were equally impressed with what they saw from the players over the two-week span in Lake Placid.
“With the player pool getting so much better, we’re looking to give our athletes little edges,” said Ken Klee, head coach of the Under-22 Select Team. “It’s a fine line between winning and losing, especially at the highest level, so I think the players definitely benefit from some of the additional experience we can provide.”
Team USA often builds their coaching staffs through a variety of highly capable resources but there is a definite benefit to including individuals with former NHL experience.
“It’s important to bring in a diverse mix of coaches and hockey backgrounds to help challenge the players to grow,” said Carey. “Inviting coaches to work with our players, who have trained and developed their own skills at the highest professional level (NHL) is a huge asset to our players. They bring a unique skill and ability to coach the technical aspects of our game as they made a career out of perfecting those skills.”
By utilizing NHL coaching resources and constantly challenging the players to improve on all fronts, the active player pool has never been stronger than it is today and the future is bright for women’s hockey in the United States.