Shortly after the NHL locked out its players, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews began organizing makeshift practice sessions, emailing teammates with times and locations and paying for the ice time out of his own pocket. He even ran drills and became the de facto coach of the group.
Now, with the one month anniversary of the lockout looming next week, the small group of Blackhawks has brought in someone who will help them do more than attempt drills and play shinny hockey.
Paying for his services themselves, the group hired Kenny McCudden, skills and skating coach for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, to direct the practices they hold three days a week. There aren’t many players in the practices – Bryan Bickell had been practicing with them but left for the Austrian League last week – but they all want to stay in playing form in case the lockout ends.
McCudden is no stranger to the Blackhawks. As a teenager, he became their stick boy and worked his way up to assistant equipment manager in six years. While he’s in awe of being on the ice with the likes of Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, he knows why the group of players called on him.
“They were looking for direction, with drills and situations and feeding off of one another in those situations and getting their timing with their hands and their feet,” McCudden said. “I’m going to try to do as many skates as possible as an independent contractor, and this is what I do professionally.”
The players have been pleased with McCudden’s help so far, according to forward Daniel Carcillo. “His drills are great. They aren’t the same drills so it’s not redundant. It’s not too hard, but it’s a lot of puck-handling and things you need to sharpen up. The other stuff will come if and when we get back to work.”
McCudden plans on directing the practices as long as he can, even as the Chicago Wolves begin their season this weekend against the Blackhawks’ farm team, the Rockford IceHogs. As for the Blackhawks players, they’ll keep practicing and waiting for a sign that their own season will begin soon.