A bedroom closet seems like an odd place to store one’s Olympic hopes.
But inside Kenny McCudden’s Crystal Lake home, the red, white and blue warm-ups he has worn during his 21/2 years working with the United States women’s hockey national team hang alongside his suits and ties rather than with the rest of his collection of coaching clothes.
McCudden doesn’t know yet if he will be part of the coaching staff that accompanies the women’s team to the Sochi Winter Olympics. Final word is expected to come in a matter of days. But not having a definitive answer won’t dampen the longtime skating coach’s enthusiasm.
“I kind of feel like a little bit of a player right now (being) in the process of trying to make the final cut,” McCudden said this week. “My gut feeling is that I will be there and I’ll be excited to be there. But at the same time, I understand that is out of my control.”
An Olympic appointment would hold special meaning for McCudden, who is the Chicago Wolves’ skating coach and who oversaw private Blackhawks workouts during last year’s NHL lockout. In his time with the women’s team, McCudden has helped prepare the Americans for a gold medal run at the upcoming Sochi Games. The U.S. won the silver medal in 2010, finishing behind Canada.
This year’s Olympic team is built for speed. That puts an onus on precise skating, clearly defining McCudden’s role. Because there is no body-checking allowed in the women’s Olympic format, a greater emphasis is placed on skill. That’s where McCudden has come in, physically preparing U.S. players for what they will face once the games begin. He has proven to be the right fit.
“The players love his enthusiasm and he has a ton of respect for them, so it’s really fun to watch them interact,” Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey said Wednesday.
“You’re talking about the best players in the world, and so everybody is skilled and everybody is talented. So it comes down to the details and the little things, and a lot of what Kenny focuses on is just those little things, and that’s what makes us better.”
The Americans boast a talented roster, but Canada has won three straight gold medals. But based on the work McCudden has seen U.S. players put in, he knows, when the time comes, they will be ready.
“Their compete level is absolutely off the charts,” McCudden said. “The thing I’ve appreciated is how they just want to get better. They don’t have the same level of competition (to make the team) as the men do because there’s not as many women play hockey. So for them, the whole progression of them trying to make a team is phenomenal.”
McCudden knows the feeling. Although he has remained part of a coaching staff that can change throughout the lead-up to the Olympics, McCudden has had to work to maintain his spot on just getting the chance to represent his country in Russia.
“You’re going through the exact same time period as a player is,” he said. “I just felt internally that I had to work that much harder every time I traveled with the team. Whether I was in Minnesota, Boston, Lake Placid – wherever I was going – I had to get better because my goal was to get to Sochi.”