Jon Klemm says it’s been close to 30 years since he’s lived in Cranbrook, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to come home.
A day after being named the eighth head coach in Kootenay Ice history, former NHLer James Patrick named his coaching staff for the 2017-18 season and it included Klemm, a legend of the area.
Klemm was born in Cranbrook in 1970 and went on to make the community very proud, first winning a WHL Championship and a Memorial Cup with the Spokane Chiefs in 1991 and then a pair of Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001.
After the team’s ownership change, the Ice reached out to Klemm and managed to convince him to return to the Key City as an associate coach.
“I started talking to (general manager) Matt [Cockell] about two weeks ago and there was some interest there but [I] really didn’t know what was going to happen,” Klemm told the Townsman on Wednesday morning. “[Then when] James [Patrick] got hired, I had a really good conversation with him and things kind of just fell into place.
“I’m very excited to be working with James, he has a lot of experience and has been around the NHL for the past 12 years and I look forward to learning from him.”
After stepping away from the game in 2009 after 18 years as a professional hockey player — with notable years spent with the Quebec Nordiques, Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings — Klemm returned to work with Spokane as a WHL assistant coach between 2009 and 2012.
He then relocated to Dallas, Texas — his wife’s hometown — and coached high-level youth hockey with U16 and U18 teams in the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL).
“I’ve been around the younger group for eight years now [and] in talking with James, he’s big on teaching and I think at this level that’s the huge step — to be a good teacher,” Klemm said. “As skilled as some of these players are, they have to learn how to play the game [and] learn the pro game, if that’s where they want to go.
“You [can’t] just lace up your skates, jump on the ice and [be] able to do that, you have to teach them and I think James [and I] will be a big part of that.”
Although he said that his specific role with the organization will be determined once the entire coaching staff has a chance to meet, he is assuming that based on his experience as an NHL defencemen, he’ll be helping out the blueline.
“I’ll try to help out in any way that I can, whether it’s penalty killing [or] on the defensive side,” he said. “I [think I’ll] primarily work with [defencemen], but we’ll sit down and have those discussions once we get settled back in Cranbrook.”
With Patrick and Klemm both having long histories as pro hockey defenceman, the Ice should improve on the defensive end next year.
“I think [our experience is] going to be huge, but ultimately the players have to play,” he said. “We can’t do it anymore, we’re too old, but as far as guidance and teaching them defensive game, [we can both help].
“More or less, [we’re going to] teach these kids how to play the game in different situations — when to be aggressive and when to be a little more passive — [and there will be] a lot of teaching.”
In addition to Klemm, the Ice also announced that Assistant Coach Gordon Burnett, Assistant Coach Roman Vopat, Director of Scouting Garnet Kazuik, Trainer/ Equipment Manager Darcy Ewanchuk and Athletic Consultant Cory Cameron, would all be returning.
They also added Denis Sproxton as the team’s goaltending consultant and Jake Heisinger as Manager of Hockey Operations and Player Experience.
What is most exciting to Klemm, however, is the chance to work with a very promising prospect pool.
“It’s always exciting when you’ve got a young team,” he said. “In the [WHL] you only get these kids for four [or] five years so it’s hard to have that core, tight-knit group for any length of time.
“[When you’re] able to have a young group and have them be together for a few years, [it’s great]. You’re going to see their improvement [and] see them gel together as a team. That’s what’s going to ultimately make you a better club and [what] gets you in the winning bracket.”
For the past two seasons, the Ice have finished in last place in the WHL standings.
On a personal level, Klemm is also very happy to be coming home, even though he knows it will be an adjustment.
“I’ve lived in Dallas for the past four years so to have a bit of a winter will be nice — although I heard some horror stories from last year with the winter that you guys had,” he laughed. “I love the outdoors [though], love the mountains, and just to be back and be a part of that again is exciting for us [as a] family.”
Klemm, in addition to the other new members of the Ice front office and hockey operations, will be attending the “#ICEcountry Drive to 25 Corporate Kick Off event presented by The Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort”. It takes place on Thursday, June 8 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.