NOTEBOOK: Wolves' McCudden realizes Olympic dream

NOTEBOOK: Wolves' McCudden realizes Olympic dream
ROSS DETTMAN / CHICAGO WOLVES | Skills and skating coach Kenny McCudden, shown here celebrating the Wolves' Calder Cup championship in 2008, is off to Sochi, Russia, to be a scout for the U.S. women's hockey Olympic team. McCudden has worked with Team USA for 2 1/2 years as a skills coach.

His duties won't be the same, but that doesn't matter to Wolves skating and skills coach Kenny McCudden. He's just happy to have any role with the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team coaching staff in Sochi, Russia.

McCudden, whom I wrote about last month, has worked with Team USA for 2 1/2 years performing similar duties he does with the Wolves. But until about two weeks ago, McCudden wasn't sure if he'd be invited to join the team for the Winter Olympics.

Then he got a call from Reagan Carey, the director of women's hockey for USA Hockey, and found out he would be included--but as a scout. It's something McCudden hasn't done before, but he was ready for the challenge.

"Scouting for the U.S. team is going to be really nice. I like it. Something new," McCudden said last week.

"Late’s better than never," he added. "Whether you’re a player, a fan or a coach, heading over to Sochi is a thrill, and it’s a thrill to be with this team."

McCudden will return to the Wolves after Feb. 20, assuming the U.S. team reaches the medal round, which is a virtual lock. USA Hockey offered to keep him there for another week, but McCudden turned it down.

"Gotta get back to work here with the Chicago Wolves," he said. "Originally USA Hockey had me out there until the 27th, but I said I’m not on vacation. It’s not a vacation in Sochi, so I have to get back to Chicago."

The Wolves will be happy to get him back. Left wing Chris Porter is one of McCudden's biggest fans, even though he knew very little about him before signing a free-agent deal with the St. Louis Blues in the offseason.

But Porter heard good things about McCudden from his friend, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. McCudden worked with about a dozen Blackhawks during private practices while the NHL lockout was in effect last season.

"I heard nothing but good things about him," Porter said. "Then once you do get on the ice with him, the drills that he has are things you’d never come up with on your own. Every time I’ve been out there with him I’ve begged the coaches to go out there with him.

"It’s just one (drill) after another, you just go, go, go for half an hour."

MIDWEST SUCCESS BOOSTING WOLVES SO FAR

Even after Friday's 4-3 overtime loss at the Iowa Wild, the Wolves' success within the Midwest Division has been key to their recovery from a slow start to the season.

The Wolves (26-16-3-2) fell to 14-7-1-2 against Midwest opponents, but that is already one more victory than they had all last season in the division (13-22-4-3). Entering Sunday's game at Milwaukee, the Wolves don't have a losing record against any team in the Midwest.

They've yet to lose in regulation to the Admirals (4-0-0-1), while they hold a 3-1-1-1 mark against the Wild. They are 3-2 against the Rockford IceHogs, and 4-4 against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

That .500 mark against the Griffins might be the biggest gauge of the Wolves' abilities. The Griffins are the defending Calder Cup champions and have been at or near the top of the Western Conference all season. They have one of the league's best offenses and defenses, making them an excellent measuring stick for the Wolves.

"Grand Rapids is the benchmark team," captain Taylor Chorney said. "That’s where we want to get. When you go and play a first-place team like that you have to elevate your game. That’s a good lesson for us to build toward the end of the year. Those are the teams you’re going to have to play to win."

Half of the eight meetings between the teams were decided by one goal, while another three were decided by two goals. The only anomaly came in the Wolves 6-2 rout in Grand Rapids the last time they played.

Perhaps most impressive from Chicago's standpoint, is holding the Griffins well below their scoring average (3.29), which ranks third in the AHL. Against the Wolves, they are averaging 2.5 goals.

The teams meet only two more times in the regular season (March 5 in Grand Rapids, March 23 at Allstate Arena). But it wouldn't be surprising if they faced each other in the playoffs. What a series that promises to be if it happens.

HOME SWEET HOME ... FINALLY

After a horrid 2-6 start to the home season, the Wolves have reclaimed control of their "Wolves Den." With a 4-2 victory over Utica on Tuesday, Chicago improved to 10-0-1-0 in its past 11 homes games, and now sit 13-7-1-0 at Allstate Arena for the season.

The Wolves' next two games are on the road (tomorrow at Milwaukee; Feb. 14 at Rockford), but after that they play six of their next eight games at home. Included in that stretch is back-to-back games against the Abbotsford Heat, which currently has a Western Conference-leading 64 points.

Those games will also bring center Corey Locke back to Allstate Arena for the first time since the Wolves traded him Jan. 23. Chicago received defenseman Mark Cundari on loan in exchange for Locke's AHL contract. So far, the deal has helped both players.

Cundari has five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games with the Wolves. He'd had only five points in his previous 16 games with the Heat. Meanwhile, Locke has racked up five assists in six games in Abbotsford after scoring only one goal with two assists in his final 10 games in Chicago.

PLAYER UPDATES

Left wing Sergey Andronov returned to the lineup Friday after missing four games with an upper-body injury. Andronov didn't collect a point against the Wild, but was plus-1. He has 10 goals and 17 points in 39 games during his second AHL season.

Left wing Dmitrij Jaskin is expected to rejoin the Wolves after the Blues game this afternoon. The NHL shuts down Sunday for the Olympic break until Feb. 25, giving the Wolves a full complement of players.

Jaskin picked up his first NHL assist in the Blues' 3-2 overtime victory over the Bruins on Thursday, giving him two points in seven NHL games this season. He is second on the Wolves with 13 goals in 32 games.

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    Paul LaTour enters his fourth full season covering the Wolves for the Chicago Tribune. A freelance writer based in Aurora, LaTour previously worked as a sportswriter for the Naperville Sun after similar jobs in Texas and Colorado. On Jan. 18, 1968, his mother went into labor at a high school hockey game in Duluth, Minn., and gave birth to him early the next day. He's been hooked on hockey ever since.

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