US Under 18 Head coach Jodi McKenna was also the assistant coach with US Olympic team in 2010. Dec. 2 2010 interview. This is the third series of 10 questions for Under 18 coaches in the 2011 World Championship.
Elizabeth Etue: What kind of team does US have this year?
Jodi McKenna: Well balanced. Lots of contributions from different types of players. skilled on both sides of puck...good defensive core; very reliable goaltenders; top to fourth line well rounded. It is so different from year to year because kids age out of the team so it is completely different envrioment with newbies; the veterans are needed to lead since these new kids are on stage for the first time. We will build a balanced group.
EE: Better skills than the previous year?
JM: Yes it looks that way. And it is probably true that each age group stronger and skilled. it does feel that way to me. We are college coaches so recruiting and observing players often and we see it (the improvement) as well. I graduated from college in 1998 and saw the difference then. The competitiveness make for improvements by leaps and bounds which is great for the sport.
You don't expect it but it is a natural stage of evolution physiologically. And these girls have always had femele role model. makes a world of difference. I tried to identify with players when i was playing but they were boys. Now they have Cammi (Granato) and Hayley (Wickenheiser). They have always been there for these young girls... such a difference.
EE: How significant is the absence of role models for non-North American players?
JM: I think there are so many factors why non North American hockey has not grown (to the same extent as North America) and that is certainly a factor. When you have a role model, it makes a big difference. Other factors are resources, access... history.... even my generation of players growing up we had a culture of other sports with female athletes we saw who broke ground. don't know if that is available elsewhere. Different sports are on their own timeline; when they have to grow. But our institutionall memory of sports is part of our history and culture. Access means access to ice time, good coaching and equipment; basic necessities. In Canada there is a Tim Hortons or ice rink everywhere you turn. Good coaching is a huge factor. Culture is 4th thing which means accepting female athletes in general. And that is not true for all the countries.
EE Aren't we really talking about gender politics here?
JM: Yes it is a big factor. For some countries to change you have to challenge status quo. Another factor is numbers...population, everything is tied in; the population of female hockey players.
EE: What specific players bring something different to the US team? For example, why is one of your players, Emily Pfalzer playing in Canada for Mississuaga Junior Chiefs?
JM. That tells you the nature of women's hockey there is in certain spots in US. You have to go out of your way to grow your game and get better competition. Emily is in teams in New York state which are very fluid. She went across the border for a good team and good league. In US players may have to drive 2 hrs to get ice on a team. That was part of her story for sure. Minnesota girls stay home for their entire careers. Other kids for geography or education go to college prep schools, most are in New England. And there are other hockey schools, it is a mix, lots of girls have taken a lot of different paths. Our Captain Alex Carpenter is one of the most competitive athletes I have ever come across. She has amazing inner drive for someone so young, one of the players who "drives the bus." Amanda Pelkey has been on this team since she was 15 years old. She knows how to prepare and rally the team. Shelly Picard is very mature, poised; she seems older than her age. Some of these girls amaze you with their maturity.
EE: What do you bring to the bench as a coach?
JM: Good coaching, good ability, personal drive and work ethic is very high. I keep a perspective because these players are so young. Girls in their age bracket, everyone matures at a different age. They are just kids, great people but they are young.
EE: What is your impression of the calibre of these players compared to the senior team?
JM: That is hard comparision to make. The Under-18 players is still trying to discover what drives them, going forward. They have touched it, that is the commonality with senior players, to be able to push themselves, lead by example and keep getting better. If you were to go back in time and put senior girls vs this team, from top to bottom this Under 18 team would be better. It is a natural process of evolution because the older kids evolved earlier. That is part of reason to bring kids in at a younger age.
EE: What three things will you focus on with this team?
JM: Play to each players strength, get most out of them in short period of time. They are lightning in a bottle. I focus on the greater whole, letting them play their game and not constricting them. Bring out their best attributes.
EE:Talk about the starting goaltender and her style and strengths.
JM: Can't say at this point. Shenae Lundberg and Megan Miller are very good and strong, each have their strengths. Their job is too challenge each other and work together.
EE:The U-18 players are getting faster and faster. Team isn’t chosen yet but what is essential in each player.
JM: They have to have a presence on the ice; make an impact; the challenge for a coach is always trying to watch so many types in so many envrionments. Want them to use their skills consistently and have an impact on the game consistently. each player does it differently.
EE:Does this age category need more international competition?
JM: I certainly think that more competition will help. Anytime they can play top players around world it is good.
EE: Like a 4 nations tournament for U-18?
JM: Any time young players can have an impact earlier it can only be a good thing. There are no easy solutions to making the game better. It is not going to be an immediate thing. There seems to be pressure to make game better quickly. It won't happen for Socchi. Takes awhile to pull all the pieces together.
EE: What do you bring to the bench as a coach?
JM: I think just being able to in short term environment vs team year around to recognize each players strength and pull it to the forefront and tie everyone together.
Those are the lessons I have learned from the 2010 Olympics. Have each player recognize how important their individual role is in greater good. It is the holy grail of coaching; get each player to recognize.
EE: Give me one example of how you get players invested in the greater good.
JM: Having players talk about hopes and goals and fears; they entrust that to each other early on.
EE: What would you tell a young player who hopes to make this national team?
JM: Keep working on things you do well. Don't be afraid to face the things you don't do well.
For complete roster: www.usahockey.com