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Color of Hockey

Color of Hockey: Sidhu's coaching helping girls realize potential

Director of Washington Pride program has mentored future collegians, Olympians

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, as part of Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, he profiles Kush Sidhu, director and Under-19 college prep coach for the Washington Pride girls hockey program and a longtime coach and instructor for USA Hockey.

Kush Sidhu respectfully declined when some parents asked him to form a girls hockey team in the Washington, D.C., area in the mid-1990s.

The former Northeastern University assistant had moved back home to put hockey behind him, thinking there wasn't a viable future in coaching the women's game at that time, especially in the Nation's Capital.

"We had the Washington Capitals, we had some youth hockey, but we had zero girls hockey," Sidhu said. "The thought of starting up girls' hockey where there wasn't anything to work with, it just seemed impossible to catch up with kids in New England, Ontario, not to mention the rest of the world. But of course, I got sucked into it."

More than a quarter century later, Sidhu is the director and under-19 college prep team coach of the Washington Pride, a program that helps lead local girls to collegiate hockey opportunities and beyond.

The program, which Sidhu started as the Little Capitals girls team in 1995, has produced 140 NCAA Division I and Division III players, three NCAA women's hockey coaches, several national team members and two Olympic medalists.

Forward Haley Skarupa starred at Boston College from 2012-16 after playing for the Pride and won a gold medal with the United States at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Forward Jessica Lutz played for the University of Connecticut from 2007-10 and won a bronze medal representing Switzerland at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Skarupa said Sidhu's Pride teams, which normally play four or five games a weekend and have a rigorous weekday practice schedule, got her in the best shape of her life and enabled her to play the sport she loves at an elite level without leaving home.

"The Washington Pride, we were never the most talented or the most skilled -- We're not from Minnesota, Boston, New England -- but we're able to compete because Kush knows what it takes and we have systems," Skarupa said. "He challenges you. For Kush, it's like, 'This isn't going to be easy, but it's going to be worth it.' I would not be the player or person I am today if I didn't go through that."

Sidhu's impact and influence extends beyond Washington's Beltway. In 2007, he co-founded the Junior Women's Hockey League, which has Under-19 and Under-16 teams in the northeastern United States and Canada.

In 1993, he created the RinkSport College Development Program, which brings some of the NCAA's top women's hockey coaches together with prospective student-athletes from across North America in the summer for a week of training, education and competition.

Sidhu's hockey journey began after his family moved from India to New York in order for his father, Dr. Rajindar Sidhu, to do a residency at the New York Medical College.

The younger Sidhu was born in New York in 1966 and moved with his family to Montreal when he was 4 months old so his father could receive neurosurgical training at McGill University.

"Although I was born in the U.S., I kind of felt like Montreal was where I grew up and, obviously, that's where I began playing hockey," Sidhu said. "We were the only non-white, non-French kids in our little village there that were playing hockey, but we felt very much welcomed to it."

Sidhu's family was on the move again in the 1970s, this time to the Washington, D.C., area where his father began a private medical practice. Sidhu, a goalie, and his brother continued playing hockey, joining a suburban Maryland team.

"As fate would have it, a lot of people were moving into the area from other parts of the country and the world," he said. "We joined a club that had kids from Massachusetts, Missouri, and Michigan and Canada. We were right at home. Really good hockey, really good players."

Sidhu went on to play junior varsity level hockey at Northeastern University and served as an assistant on the women's hockey team at the same time he was earning his doctorate in neuroscience.

When was completing his studies, then-Northeastern women's coach Don MacLeod asked Sidhu if he would coach the team's goalies.

"I'd never been a goalie coach," he said. "Fortunately, their team was really good. They had just come off a national championship. The goalies were amazing, and they were really helpful. They knew I was green, but they were willing to give me a chance."

MacLeod gave Sidhu another opportunity when he invited him to coach the U.S. women's national team's goalies at the first IIHF Women's World Championship in 1990 in Ottawa.

"I was only 23 years old, and the players were almost as old as I was, some older," he said. "We went all the way to the gold medal game, lost to Canada in front of 10,000 people. It was such a rich experience."

He has been a USA Hockey fixture ever since. He served as a training camp coach for the 1992 and 1994 national teams; an instructor in the organization's coaching education program; coach-in-chief for the Southeast District; coach of USA Hockey's 15 Player Development Camps in 2013, 2016 and 2018 and coach at the Girls Under-18 Select Camps in 2014 and 2015; and as a mentor in the Coaching Intern Program. 

"He's been integral in some of the key programming that we've implemented at national camps and in the Southeast District," said Kristen Wright, USA Hockey's American Development Model manager for female hockey. "One the most impactful things that Kush is capable of, really, is that he has an unbelievable skillset in making sure people feel welcome in creating a community of hockey around him."

The man who once didn't see his future coaching girls and women's hockey now can't imagine doing anything else.

"I feel like there's a purpose to what we do," he said. "We want kids to feel that this is the best part of their day when they come to hockey, because it's mine."

Photos: Eric Blitz, Haley Skarupa

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