June 2, 2009 in Sports

Blanchette: Chiefs get more than an assistant

By Correspondent
 

Jon Klemm has been hired to coach and coach he will, as Hardy Sauter’s new assistant with the Spokane Chiefs.

But frankly, he could be on salary as example-in-residence.

Is there a bored star who thinks he’s ready for the National Hockey League right now? A winger pouting at having to take shifts on the blue line? An undrafted defenseman hoping a few extra goals might get him noticed, even at the expense of his team?

Well, fellas – take a look over there at Coach Klemm.

Or maybe you don’t want a 13-year career in the NHL and a couple of Stanley Cups?

A rookie again at the age of 39, Jon Klemm knows he’s an empty slate as a coach. But then, no matter how many shifts he pulled in NHL stays with Colorado, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, he always felt pretty much the same way.

“I was learning right through my last game,” he said.

And now it’s his turn to teach.

Nothing all so novel – frankly, Klemm’s message will be pretty much the same one the Chiefs have been hearing since peewee, a variation on the work-hard-and-do-things- the- right-way theme. But coming from someone who’s been places the young Chiefs want to go – and stayed for so long – gives Klemm the kind of credibility that Dave Brubeck would have teaching “Chopsticks” to beginners.

Particularly since Klemm was one of them, too – and has a Memorial Cup ring as further validation.

The 1991 Chiefs set what once was assumed to be an unreachable standard here – a relentless offense triggered by goal machines Pat Falloon and Ray Whitney and a risk-taking style made possible by Trevor Kidd as a backstop. What always was overlooked was the steadying hand of the quiet captain and his abilities as a playmaker, as 58 assists that year suggest.

“That whole last year in Spokane, I really wasn’t sure what the future held,” Klemm recalled. “I hadn’t been drafted. I wasn’t sure there would be any interest in me at all. But when you have a team like that one, there are obviously going to be scouts and people watching you the whole time.

“Teams that don’t go that far don’t get that.”

So, kids, let that be lesson No. 1.

Lesson No. 2? Try patience.

Klemm signed with the old Quebec Nordiques organization – now Colorado – and spent four years in AHL outposts Halifax and Cornwall, and grateful for every game he played there.

“That first year of pro, I didn’t notice that much of a difference in the game,” he said. “Guys were bigger and stronger, but they’re still young players. It’s the jump from the AHL to the NHL that’s the big one and you’ve got to be really prepared. I needed that time to work on my game and get better. I wasn’t ready.”

In 1996, when he finally stuck, he was ready – to a point. In their first season after relocation from Quebec, the Avalanche turned out to be the perfect storm – blowing through the playoffs and sweeping the Stanley Cup final over Florida with Klemm, who spent the season swinging between defense and wing, scoring a pair of goals in a Game 2 blowout.

Five years later, the Avalanche finally answered the followup question, and Klemm seems to regard the second time as the more gratifying.

Among other things, that was the series that gave Ray Bourque his only Cup win in 22 years, got goaltender Patrick Roy the record for wins and saw the Avalanche survive a pair of Game 7s, including against New Jersey in the final.

“But mostly I was just able to enjoy it more,” Klemm said. “That first year, I was just happy to be there in this position and too unaware to think about what was happening. The second time around, I put a little more pressure on myself to perform – but I could also enjoy the moment.”

The Chiefs have been in existence long enough now to have recycled ex-players as assistants – like Sauter himself – but none have had either Klemm’s depth of experience or success.

“I hope that has some impact,” he said. “I know when I was that age, I would have loved to be around someone who’d played a long time in the NHL and won at that level. I know I would have paid attention because that’s where I wanted to go.”

He’s been there, and now he’s back. It should get someone’s attention.


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