Kleinendorst, the USNDT coach, liked what he saw in his team's inaugural outing in the United States Hockey League during the opening day of the Fall Classic at the Tyson Events Center. He was particularly pleased with the play of his defense, which limited the Tri-City Americans to just 13 shots in a 3-1 victory Thursday evening.
"We're pretty good on the defensive side of the puck," Kleinendorst told NHL.com. "I think we're always going to score some goals, so that's a pretty good combination. But if I have to be critical in any way, I just think we can be a harder team to play against. We can be a little harder because we skate hard, are big and are strong. We need to be a little more physical down the road."
The USNDT received goals from Chase Balisy in the first and defensemen Frankie Simonelli and Justin Faulk in the third to open a 3-0 lead before Tri-City's Jaden Schwartz connected on a power-play goal with 7:25 remaining. Team USA outshot Tri-City, 27-13, and successfully killed five of six power-play opportunities.
Defenseman Jarred Tinordi, the captain of the USNDT this season, was pleased with the effort, but realizes more work is needed.
"The USHL is a tough league and I think that was a good first game, but we can definitely play a little harder so it's going to be a learning process for us," Tinordi said. "I'm very excited to be playing against a lot of good competition and players this season, so it'll be good for us to experience that."
Kleinendorst believes the team will improve with each passing game.
"It's still early and we did some things well and then there were some other things, obviously, that we need to get better at," he said. "But, having said that, it's early in the season and it is a win and we'll improve."
The coach was particularly impressed with forward Brandon Saad and defensemen Tinordi and Faulk.
"I thought Brandon was probably our best forward; he's one of those guys who's big (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), strong and intelligent," Kleinendorst said. "He's an honest player -- he won't take a shift off. On the blue line, it's tough for me to single out one particular guy, but Tinordi and Justin Faulk were pretty good. That Faulk is a nice little player.
"Don't forget though, I'm still getting to know these kids," he continued. "I'm not trying to say I don't know my players, but saying they surprised me and are awfully good."
Kleinendorst is entering a new chapter of his coaching career after spending the previous three seasons as head coach of the American Hockey League's Lowell Devils. He replaced John Hynes at the Michigan-based USNDT after Hynes accepted the position of assistant coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. The transition from Hynes to Kleinendorst is obviously a work in progress.
"Every time you get a new head coach, there will be some changes, and coach Kleinendorst is a great coach, but we knew we would miss coach Hynes," defenseman Stephen Johns said. "But so far it's been great with Coach K."
Johns, at 6-3, 215 pounds, is one of the more physically imposing blue liners on the roster this season. He agreed with Kleinendorst's assessment that the club needs to exhibit more of an edge in its play.
"It was a good step in competition from last year in the NAHL," Johns said. "We did a lot of right things but we can accomplish a lot more dirty things by touching the puck first in the offensive zone and finishing some hits. I do think being grittier is a key asset to winning games and I feel we have a lot of skill and speed -- we just need to stress playing a little more grittier in the locker room.
- Kurt Kleinendorst
The Under-18 Team will play 26 games against USHL competition this season while meeting 17 NCAA colleges, including the last four NCAA Division I national champions (Boston University, Boston College, Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin).
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.