Wolves' McCudden helping USA women chase gold
Kenny McCudden has been involved in every level of hockey imaginable on every kind of frozen pond.
He's held the hands of mites as they've tentatively navigated their way around a sheet of ice for the first time. He's also managed to stroke the egos of multimillion dollar NHLers as they've tried to gain an edge -- literally and figuratively -- during summer off-season training.
This week, McCudden takes off for Sochi, Russia, and the culmination of something truly special. McCudden is the skating and skills coach for the United States women's Olympic hockey team, which includes Buffalo Grove native Megan Bozek, a defenseman.
"You work hard for something for two-and-a-half years to be part of it, and that's your goal, to be part of it," said McCudden, a resident of Crystal Lake. "I'm honored. I'm privileged. And it took a lot of hard work to get to this point, to be part of the program and to keep on moving on within the program, the women's national program.
"The two-and-a-half years of traveling North America with them, from New York City to Minnesota, every time I got called upon, which was a lot, whether you're running camps or running skills sessions for the women's national team, it was a real treat to get with the women."
In hockey circles, McCudden is best known as the skating and skills coach of the Chicago Wolves, who have been playing professional hockey in Rosemont for the last 20 years, winning four championships.
He works with hockey players year-round on skills such as skating, passing, shooting and stickhandling.
McCudden has been involved in coaching and teaching hockey skills since the late 1980s, when he hooked up with former Blackhawk Grant Mulvey, who went on to become the first general manager of the Wolves.
Over the years, McCudden has been a fixture at Chicago-area ice houses, putting on clinics and working tirelessly with players at every level, from morning until the Zamboni has made its last run of the night.
"I live in ice skates," he said. "There was a group of parents telling me, 'Coach, how many hours for you today?' I said it was a lighter day today, six hours on the ice. A lighter day. They go, 'Come on, what's a heavy day?' I go, 'A heavy day is eight hours. Six is more than enough.' They said, 'How do you keep the passion going?' I said, 'I was called upon to do this. I love it.'
"I'd be cheating your kids if I didn't bring out the passion of yelling their names and being a part of it and getting involved in the drills. I wouldn't be the right coach. But yeah, I want to be at this until somebody tells me I can no longer do it."
McCudden thanked U.S. general manager Reagan Carey for bringing him aboard in the first place and giving him the news that he also would be traveling to Sochi.
With the women's team, McCudden is able to channel his passion into an entirely new area.
"It brought out new passion because it was a part of my teaching I had never been involved in," he said. "I had never been involved in the women's game. So it was something completely new. Having that privilege of being able to do it and stay with it was phenomenal.
"But it brought a new passion coming back to Illinois hockey, whether it be with the Chicago Wolves or whether it be with kids hockey because it was something new in my life, really, really new. That was the women's game. I had never been involved in it. I've taught girls, but not women."
And these women are pretty good. They go into the Olympics with gold in sight. But so does their archrival, Canada, as well as Finland.
McCudden is hoping his input can make a difference, but the U.S. women's team is giving him a lot to work with.
"They're at the top of their game," he said. "To be quite honest with you, I didn't think they would be able to shoot the puck as well as they shoot the puck. And I didn't think they'd be able to zing the puck around passing it as well as they can pass it. I knew they would be very, very disciplined athletes, but where they really shocked me was with their passing and shooting.
"So when I got on the ice with them the first time, that's what really got to me, meaning that I didn't think they could move the puck like that. I knew they could play positional play. I knew they could skate. But I didn't think the puck movement and shooting would be the same. I was blown away."
The women's game lacks only the legal hitting of the men's game, but what McCudden teaches is universal, no matter who is playing.
"Even a pro player, if they can't zip the puck around or they can't place the puck, they're not going to be playing at the highest level," he said.
Now all that's left is for the players to go out and play. McCudden will be looking on with pride.
"I think the all-around progression since I've been involved, seeing the final product, taking it to one of the biggest stages on Earth in sport, when it's clicking, just the speed of their game is such a pleasure to watch," he said. "Whether they're playing in the World Championships, which is the next-closest thing to the Olympics, and you see where it's coming as a team, all the way to these preliminary game against Canada, where you see it really, really clicking, it's a process. Trying to build a team those four years is such a process."
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