Q&A: Women’s National Team coach Ken Klee
Ken Klee enjoyed a lengthy and successful career patrolling the blue line in the NHL, including a season with the Colorado Avalanche, and now is honing his chops behind the bench. The head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team that competed in last month’s Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, British Columbia, the Littleton resident chatted with Colorado Rubber about his expanding coaching resume and the emergence of youth hockey across the state.
Colorado Rubber: How did the opportunity to coach the U.S. Women’s National Team present itself?
Ken Klee: After my five-year hiatus since retiring, I wanted to start getting my name out there for coaching opportunities, and USA Hockey was definitely on my list to call. Funny enough, (USA Hockey director of women’s hockey) Reagan Carey called me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. We’re looking for a new staff for the Women’s National Team. Are you interested in getting involved?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I helped run a camp in mid-August to see if it was a good fit, and it’s worked out well.
CR: Are you hoping to expand you coaching resume into the junior, college or professional ranks?
KK: I am. Obviously hockey has been a huge part of my life and continues to be, and I have three boys who play and I certainly love it.
I wanted to get away from the high level, high stress and high pressure (of playing in the NHL) for a few years; I think it’s healthy and I was fortunate I was able to do that. One of my best buddies is (former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach) Dan Bylsma, and he’s obviously done quite well and he didn’t really have a break (getting away from the game), but worked himself up the ranks pretty quickly.
At the end of your NHL career, you seem to move from team to team every year – I know I did. I think my oldest boy had six schools in six years, so we said, ‘Let’s take a break from moving,’ so that’s probably why I haven’t thrown my name out there for a junior, college or pro position yet. My two oldest boys are a junior and sophomore in high school, and I’d like to get them through and then see where we’re at (in terms of coaching opportunities).
Consequently, this fits pretty great; I travel once a month or once every other month and get to coach obviously some of the best women’s players in the world. I think I’ve become a better coach every year, and obviously I’d like that to continue.
CR: When did you start coaching youth hockey in Colorado?
KK: In 2009 right after I retired. It was with the Foothills Youth Hockey Association. That was the rink during the (NHL) lockout in ‘04 my kids played at, and then when I got to play for the Avalanche in ‘06, that’s where they played again, so it was a good fit.
John Seymour was the hockey director then and said, ‘Hey, Ken, what would you like to do (in terms of coaching)? I’ll give you as much or as little as you want.’ The first year, I just thought I’d be an assistant coach on my two boys’ teams, and then the next year I stepped into a head-coaching role.
CR: You coached Foothills’ Bantam AA team to a state title last season. How gratifying was that for you and the program?
KK: It was the first time ever a Foothills team got to go to nationals, so obviously it was a big honor for those kids and myself to have a small organization like us accomplish that goal.
CR: How has the quality of youth coaching in Colorado evolved since you’ve been involved?
KK: I think it’s gotten a lot better. A lot of NHLers are retiring in Denver – whether it’s an Adam Foote or a Joe Sakic or a Rick Berry – and when you have former NHL players who have perspective on the game, it’s huge.
We’re not trying to coach the kids as NHLers; we’re just trying to teach them the game we love, and that’ll help teach them about life, and I think that’s what it’s all about for a lot of us.
CR: As a guy who’s reached the highest level of the game, what’s the best piece of advice you have for young players and their parents?
KK: It’s hard. To me, why I love hockey for my kids is because it’s life – you win and you lose. It teaches you a lot of life lessons; there are consequences when you make mistakes, whether it’s a goal against or a penalty. That’s one of the things kids need to learn in life.
Obviously, it’s great to have a dream, but I wouldn’t say making the NHL should be your goal; I’d say it should be to improve every day and have fun while you’re doing it.
CR: You coached your boys when they were younger. Is there any particular reason you’ve stopped?
KK: They’re 15-, 16 years old, and they need to play because they love it; not because it was dad’s thing, so I’ve kind of stepped back.
Both play for the Colorado Thunderbirds, so they’re traveling, missing dances, missing hanging out with their buddies to go travel around the country to play hockey, and that has to be their decision.
They’re missing a lot of social activities in high school – which I had to as well – but I don’t want them to do that for me. If that’s what they choose, obviously I’ll support them, but if they choose not to, I’ll support them that way, too.
CR: You played your Division I hockey at Bowling Green State University. Are you a strong proponent of the NCAA route?
KK: Absolutely. It’s fantastic. That was my goal – to play college hockey – and it’s just an awesome experience. To have the chance to play in that environment is just immeasurable.
I laugh when I see all the girls here (with the Women’s National Team) who are college players and how much fun they’re having with it and the camaraderie, and I just think it’s an awesome experience.
CR: Talk about the quality of youth hockey in Colorado today and its potential?
KK: It’s tremendous. There are a lot of good coaches and a lot of good players coming through here, and you see it at the University of Denver, which has quite a few homegrown kids, and CC now has added quite a few.
You see those kids competing at the World Junior Championships and being drafted into the NHL now, so I think it’s really improved greatly. It’s awesome because I think it’s great for kids to be able to play at home and have a great hockey experience.