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Kleinendorst aims to carry U-18 success to AHL

by Lindsay Kramer
Kurt Kleinendorst took a couple out-of-the-loop vacation weeks this summer.

He figures that's when Binghamton Senators coach Don Nachbaur must have resigned. He came to that deduction because when Ottawa Senators Assistant General Manager Tim Murray called him to discuss whether he'd be interested in coaching Binghamton, Kleinendorst had no idea what he was talking about.

"I'm not going to lie to you. I didn't know they had an opening," Kleinendorst said. "I didn't know that Don had left."

The Senators were keeping a lot closer tabs on Kleinendorst than he was on their organizational chart. Ottawa's cold-call to him indicated it was well along the way to considering him a strong candidate for the Binghamton job. After Kleinendorst absorbed the notion that there was a "Help Wanted" sign hanging in the window and said he'd love to get a crack at the position, the Senators brought him in as their AHL coach last week.

"I think he's got the whole background. I think we wanted a guy that can teach. These kids are all prospects, but they have a lot to learn. We needed more of a teacher and a communicator. He's a student of the game."
-- Ottawa Senators assistant GM Tim Murray on Kurt Kleinendorst

Kleinendorst, 49, spent last season as the head coach of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program's Under-18 team, leading it to a to gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship in Belarus. He also served as an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Halifax and Quebec City.

"I think he's got the whole background," Murray said. "I think we wanted a guy that can teach. These kids are all prospects, but they have a lot to learn. We needed more of a teacher and a communicator. He's a student of the game."

Kleinendorst's first pro exams didn't go too well. From 2006-09 he coached the Lowell Devils during a tough stretch in which the under-stocked team failed to make the playoffs. Parent club New Jersey decided to make a coaching change there but offered to let Kleinendorst stay in the system. Kleinendorst said he thought he had to start fresh somewhere else if he was going to get better at the job and maybe land another pro coaching chance.

"If you don't do self-evaluation and you keep thinking your way is the best way and there's no way to improve, you become stale and stagnant. I needed to be better," Kleinendorst said of his Lowell years. "I don't want to lay it all out there. This (AHL coaching) is about development. But at the same time, you have to find a way to win."

Kleinendorst makes no apologies for his generally easy going demeanor, saying he's a good guy about 95 percent of the time. The other five percent? Well, Binghamton's players don't want to meet that coach, because in a rough translation of Kleinendorst's own scouting report, he can be a real jerk when he doesn't like what he sees.

"It comes out when it needs to come out," he said. "The players today need to be communicated to. You articulate your guidelines. I'm going to challenge the guys to be professional. Some of the guys will get it. I just think that players today respond more to being positive. I think anybody who has enjoyed playing for me will reinforce what I'm saying. I am a positive person."

Devils, Tampa take different paths to coaching moves -- In other coaching news in a busy week, two organizations took distinctly different tacks in filling their AHL jobs.

New Jersey promoted Rick Kowalsky from Trenton of the ECHL, where he had coached the past four seasons, to run Albany.

"I was happy at the ECHL level. I had not pursued anything at the AHL standpoint thus far in my career," said Kowalsky, 38. "Just knowing (New Jersey GM) Lou (Lamoriello's) history of promoting from within, you always knew an opportunity could arise. It's more comforting knowing there's a certain familiarity in the organization."

Tampa Bay went the opposite route, hiring a coach for Norfolk who was stunned the organization even knew his name. Jon Cooper, 42, spent the previous two seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, posting an 84-27-9 record and winning a league championship last season.

"Did I think potentially at some point I would get an American League opportunity? I did," Cooper said. "But did I think I'd get it with this organization? I didn't see it coming. Everyone says you're not experienced enough. I've been a head coach at multiple levels of hockey for a quarter of my lifetime. Once Game 1 is over, that hurdle will be surpassed."

Cote sees big picture with move into coaching -- The way Riley Cote sees it, he's just trading one type of challenge for another. Both can be painful at times, but in much different ways.

At the still spry age of 28, Cote is retiring from his job as Philadelphia Flyers forward to take an assistant coach's position with its farm team, the Adirondack Phantoms. It's an unusually young age for an NHL player to hang up his skates, especially one who is pretty healthy.

But Cote looks down the road a bit and sees a foggy playing future. He skated in just 15 games for the Flyers last season, and has a year left on his contract. He guesses he'd be an AHL player this season, and as an enforcer would be a pelt all the up-and-comers looking to make a name for themselves in that area would chase.

"Having every young punk knocking on my door trying to fight me, which I have no problem with … I'm smarter than I look sometimes," said Cote. "I'm looking long-term. I just weighed out where I'd be in a year or two. I think it's the right move for me. It's more of a business decision than anything."

Cote knows his adjustment will be difficult for a couple of reasons. First, he has no pro coaching experience. Secondly, he's the type of guy who likes to take matters into his own hands, and as a coach, that urge can be satisfied only to a certain degree.

"I think at first it's going to be tough for me. I'm just going to try and be calm and look composed," he said. "The players see an animal coach, it looks like they are being led by a bunch of hooligans, and you don't want that. A large part of me wants to play still, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet, do what's best."

Even though he's never done the job before, Bill Scott takes over the Oklahoma City Barons with a good idea of how to run an AHL team. Dozens of ideas, actually, all gleaned from a front-row seat to how these things work.

Scott, 29, was named Oklahoma City GM last week after spending the last four years as director of hockey operations for the league. Besides creating the league schedule, assisting in determining player fines and suspensions and supervising regular-season and playoff games, he also worked with clubs on a variety of management issues.

"There's certainly going to be an adjustment period," Scott said of his new job. "But the great thing of working for the league office is seeing the inner workings of all the teams. You just want to take everyone's best ideas. I think from the business side of it, group ticket sales are really important. You can never put enough work in."

The first several buckets of sweat equity have to be filled by building the team's brand. The new franchise is trying to wedge its way into a major market already nuts about fall and winter diversions like the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder and college and high school football.

"Once we get them into the building and they see the speed and the skill of these players, I've always believed hockey sells itself," Scott said. "We're going to be able to have a lot of success here in Oklahoma City. It's going to be a home run here."
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