|New Binghamton Senators head coach Kurt Kleinendorst guided Team USA to the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Under-18 championship held in Belarus (Photo by Dave Arnold/USA Hockey).
Kurt Kleinendorst savoured every bit of a golden hockey moment that did his country proud.
But the 49-year-old Minnesota native, who guided Team USA to top honours at the 2010 IIHF World Under-18 Championship earlier this year in Belarus, couldn't be more enthused about returning to the professional hockey ranks with the Binghamton Senators.
"It was a great opportunity," Kleinendorst said earlier today about his golden run with the Stars and Stripes. "But the one thing I knew more than anything was that I wanted to get back into the pro game.
"To get that opportunity and to get it with an organization like the Senators ... to me, it's an absolute home run. I'm back where I want to be. I really enjoy the pro game."
The Senators were pretty happy themselves to announce today that Kleinendorst has inked a two-year deal to take over the B-Sens head coaching position vacated by Don Nachbaur at the end of last season. He quickly impressed Senators management with what assistant general manager Tim Murray described as "his passion for the game and his coaching ability."
"Just the way he spoke, (you could tell) he knew the game," said Murray. "He was with the (American) Under-18 team last year, but his knowledge of the National Hockey League and his knowledge of different teams and cap numbers for certain players that we were just talking about casually ... a lot of guys wouldn't know those things.
"It looked like he stayed on top of it, it looked like he had a great interest in what was going on in the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League and it just sounds like he's a career coach."
His experience with a group of teenagers in the U.S. National Team Development Program, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., should stand him a good stead with a B-Sens team that figures to be long on youth in the season ahead.
"We needed more of a teacher and a communicator than a disciplinarian," said Murray. "He can do that, he can put the hammer down, but he's not that. He's a teacher, he's a student of the game and a very good communicator. At this point in our organization, that's what we need for our young guys."
"We are in the field of developing these young players to be future Senators up in Ottawa and that will always be the priority. But at the same time, we need to win hockey games and I've always felt the two go hand in hand. I think that when we get together, once we get this thing going, we'll be able to develop these kids and we'll be able to get them ready for their day in Ottawa. But at the same time, we'll win hockey games. That's really what our focus has to be." - Kurt Kleinendorst
But make no mistake about it. Kleinendorst, who spent nine years in the New Jersey Devils organization — including three as the bench boss with the AHL's Lowell Devils — knows that winning and development can happen together. All of which should sit well with the fans in Binghamton, who are anxious to see playoff hockey return to Broome County Veterans' Memorial Arena.
"We are in the field of developing these young players to be future Senators up in Ottawa and that will always be the priority," said Kleinendorst. "But at the same time, we need to win hockey games and I've always felt the two go hand in hand. I think that when we get together, once we get this thing going, we'll be able to develop these kids and we'll be able to get them ready for their day in Ottawa.
"But at the same time, we'll win hockey games. That's really what our focus has to be, but it'll be through (paying attention to) details and discipline ... Winning is important. When you're talking about development, it is so much easier to develop the full player in a positive environment."
Kleinendorst, a father of four, is moving his family to upstate New York to join an organization that he says "I have a strong history with, going back to the Roy Mlakar days." That sits well with the Senators, who'd like to build some coaching stability on the farm.
"He wanted to be in Binghamton and he wanted more than one year," said Murray. "He says he'd like to be around and be a part of the family for awhile."