Klee wants more success with U.S. Women’s National Team
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He’s back … behind the bench.
Former NHL stalwart Ken Klee has been named coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team that will compete in the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship.
The tournament will be March 28-April 4 at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, British Columbia.
This is the sixth consecutive event that Klee will coach Team USA and the second straight IIHF Women’s World Championship. Klee guided Team USA to the gold medal at the 2015 event in Malmo, Sweden. The U.S. has played Canada in the title game in all 16 Women’s World Championship tournaments, winning in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
There’s also a Colorado connection on Klee’s current roster in Lakewood goalie Nicole Hensley, a Colorado Select alum who recently finished her NCAA career at Division I Lindenwood University.
“We’re very excited to have Nicole join our national team for the first time,” Klee said. “She’s had a tremendous college career and we’re looking forward to seeing how she can continue to improve as a national team player.”
The 23 players on the U.S. team for the Women’s World Championship come from 13 states.
“We have an excellent mix of veterans, youth, size, speed and skill,” he said. “One of our biggest challenges will be bringing our players, who have been playing on different teams all season, back to our style and system of playing.”
Hopefully, the transition won’t take too long. It will help that 18 of the 23 players on the roster were on the U.S. team that won last year’s Women’s World Championship. The 2016 U.S. team was primarily selected at an evaluation camp held in late December in Blaine, Minn., that showcased the top 40 players.
Practice begins March 17 after the majority of players complete their NCAA Division I or National Women’s Hockey League seasons.
“It will be very important for us to all get on the same page as quickly as possible before heading to Kamloops,” Klee said.
Klee has a strategy for getting the most out of his players even if they’re not very familiar with each other.
“The best way for a coach at any level, men or women, to get the best out of his players is to be a strong communicator of the coaching staff’s expectations,” he said. “Players need to know how we feel they need to play to be successful and that they’re all an important part of the team’s success.”
As for the 2016 IIHF tournament, Klee expects Canada to be the biggest roadblock on Team USA’s path to another championship. But there are other dangers lurking.
“Canada is always a tough opponent, but the other countries are improving and putting more pressure on the U.S. and Canadian teams,” he said.
Klee had a perfect 2015 behind the Team USA bench. Besides winning the Women’s World Championship, his team also won the Four Nations Cup in Sundsvall, Sweden, and the Under-22 Series, defeating Canada two games to one.
In 2014, Klee led the U.S. Women’s Under-22 Select Team to the gold medal in the Under-22 Series with three straight wins over Canada and his team finished second in the Four Nations Cup.
Klee retired from the NHL in 2009 after a 14-year career that saw him play for seven teams, including the Colorado Avalanche. He didn’t score many goals (55), but 13 were game winners, the highest percentage of any player in NHL history.
The Indianapolis, Ind., native played for Team USA in four tournaments.
He now coaches youth teams and runs skills clinics in the Denver area and his sons are involved in hockey. Garrett, 17, is with the Madison Capitols of the United States Hockey League. Mason, 16, is playing on the Colorado Thunderbirds 16U AAA National team. David, 10, plays in the Littleton-based Foothills Flyers organization.
— Steve Stein