June 12, 2024
Sports - McHenry County

Sports - McHenry County

Connection with Jared Boll helps Kenny McCudden land coaching job with Columbus Blue Jackets

Kenny McCudden, a Crystal Lake resident and former Chicago Wolves skating coach, works with Blackhawks players during the 2012 lockout at Johnny's IceHouse in Chicago. McCudden recently was hired as an assistant coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

When Jared Boll first met Kenny McCudden as a 10-year-old at a hockey camp in Crystal Lake, he wasn’t a huge fan.

“He always really emphasized the skating part and the skills part,” Boll said. “When I was younger, all I wanted to do was screw around on the ice and play games, but he always made us work on skating.”

In the almost two decades since, Boll has warmed to the coach’s ways. That’s particularly important now that the pair will be reunited on the game’s biggest stage after McCudden was named an assistant coach for Boll’s Columbus Blue Jackets on June 18.

McCudden’s first full-time NHL position comes after 27 years of coaching youth and minor league hockey and more than 20 years of coaching professionals, including 16 years as the skating and skills coach for the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.

McCudden has trained thousands of Chicago-area hockey players, working with clubs ranging from Crystal Lake’s Yellowjackets to Rolling Meadows’ Chargers to the Chicago Mission in Woodridge. It was a connection with Boll that indirectly led to the Columbus job.

Boll, an eight-year veteran and alternate captain for the Blue Jackets, left Crystal Lake in 2003 to play junior hockey after his first two years at Prairie Ridge. Although McCudden has lived in Crystal Lake since 1998 and often runs camps at the Crystal Ice House, the two fell out of touch.

They reconnected four summers ago, when Boll called McCudden looking for someone to help him freshen his on-ice skills before he began training camp.

Boll remembered, years ago, going to the Ice House and watching McCudden work with Colorado Avalanche players in the summer. He talked to some fellow professionals who had worked with McCudden and got his number from Derek MacKenzie, a then-teammate who had played for the Wolves.

Each August for the past four years, he flew McCudden out to work with him and a small group of other professionals in the area, focusing on skating, stickhandling and shooting.

“I was looking for a skills guy,” Boll said. “I just remembered how much he makes it fun. It’s hard work, but he loves doing what he’s doing so much, and he makes you enjoy it. He gets the best (out) of every player.”

Last summer, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards sat in to watch a session and later chatted with McCudden. Boll said he had no idea he inadvertently had planted the seeds that would lead to a full-time player-coach reunion this year.

“He definitely earned it,” Boll said. “He’s been doing this for a long time. I mentioned to some of the guys he’s coming here, and they’re really excited.”

The career move will mean a move from Crystal Lake to Ohio, which will be complete by September, and a complete change in schedule. For years, McCudden has done four to six hours of work a day beyond his duties with the Wolves.

He estimates he put about 30,000 miles on his car each year just driving from rink to rink and jokes that his passenger’s seat had become a de facto office and his trunk a dressing room.

In addition to his work with youth clubs, he’s worked with players from several NHL teams, including training several of the Blackhawks during the 2012 lockout.

Now, his focus will solely be on the pro game. Although McCudden had several earlier opportunities to leave the AHL, he took this one because he felt this role perfectly suited him.

He’ll serve as the “eye in the sky” for the Blue Jackets, watching from the press box and providing observations. He also will be the team’s skills coach, provide one-on-one training before and after practice and do some work with Columbus’ AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.

“What made this move a no-brainer was they felt that they were missing a part of development that I could offer,” McCudden said. “I was the guy that was called upon, and there wasn’t much negotiation. It was great dialogue right from the get-go, and it seemed like it was a situation where I was going to be wanted.”

The move means McCudden will move on from those relationships with youth hockey clubs. Those who have worked with McCudden say they’ll miss him as much from a personal standpoint as from a hockey one.

“He’s a sought-after coach, one of the elite coaches in the country, but he brought the same passion for every level of player,” said Glenn Busch, the Yellowjackets’ former hockey director. “There’s a place for everyone in the game. He realized that. He was very passionate about being on the ice with all the kids.”

Paul Madej, the Yellowjackets’ communications director, noted McCudden has a knack for remembering the name of every player he was ever on the ice with.

“It’s amazing what comes out of our area as far as hockey players, collegiately, semi-pro and professionally,” Madej said.  “Kenny’s touched all their lives in one form or another.”

McCudden got a reminder of that when the news release announcing his hire was issued at 2 p.m. June 18. By that evening, he had more than 300 calls and text messages on his phone from well-wishers ranging from U.S. Olympic women’s hockey players to those he had coached as kids.

“It shows you that you spent a lot of years at your craft and you’ve been recognized for it,” McCudden said. “Sometimes, you don’t hear it too often. When you do over something like this and you’re honored to take a job in the National Hockey League, it’s pretty special to hear the kind words of so many.”

The coach’s on-ice duties began last week at the team’s development camp, which started Monday and ran through Friday.

“I’m anxious, but I think once I go through the door, that’s my office,” McCudden said beforehand. “I feel 100 percent normal in that 200-by-85-foot office.”