BALANCING ACT: Kepler Excels on PHF Stage While Continuing to Coach Syracuse WICE
By Chilekasi Adele | @CAdeleTV
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Claudia Kepler is living a double hockey life.
Kepler currently serves as the Assistant Coach for Syracuse Ice Hockey — her first year in the position.
She also makes a few trips to the Western Side of New York State, lacing up her skates to play for the Premier Hockey Federation’s Buffalo Beauts. Kepler signed with Buffalo late last year.
The Wisconsin native returned to professional hockey after stints with Russian franchise KRS Vanke Rays Shenzhen, where she won a championship, and the HC Kunlun Red Stars in China. Kepler also played in Sweden — in addition to helping coach youth in the country.
Before all of that, Kepler excelled as a college hockey player. She tallied 92 points throughout her college career — 60 of those being goals. Spending her first three collegiate seasons at Ohio State, Kepler led her team in scoring.
She spent her final season at Wisconsin, serving as a captain, winning the conference regular season championship, and advancing to the Frozen Four.
In Buffalo, Kepler has already been a contributor. In six games played, she’s scored three goals. Her most recent goal came on Feb. 21, when she scored against the Toronto Six in a 3-0 victory. Kepler earned the 2nd star in that contest.
Her first goal in the PHF was on Jan. 22 against the Minnesota Whitecaps. Kepler earned the third star in that contest as well. She earned the 3rd star in a 3-2 loss to the Metropolitan Riveters back on Feb. 13, netting a goal.
While she splits time between Syracuse’s Tennity Ice Pavilion, Amherst, N.Y.’s Northtown Center, and all the road destinations her two teams travel to for games, those she coaches alongside see her as someone who helps connect with the players in ways an older coach can’t.
“We call her the fun coach, because she really is,” Head Coach Paul Flanagan said. “She’s a great role model for our girls, because it’s one thing for Brendon [Knight] or myself — maybe doing skills or talking to them. But when [Kepler’s] out there, showing up, and she’s doing things with them, I just think it clicks a little bit better.”
Flanagan had nothing but positive things to say about Kepler’s work ethic.
“There’s no one working harder,” he said. “She gets her equipment on, she’s out there working, sometimes just by herself. She’s always in the weight room,” Flanagan added.
The players love her too. To them, Kepler’s professional experience is an added plus, and gives them insight on how they can improve.
“She’s taken the time to work on our skills individually, which I think is great,” sophomore forward Sarah Thompson said. “I’ve been able to get on the ice before practice and work on the little things that I need to work on. So, she’s been great for that and she has that perspective — she’s playing it right now, she knows the women’s game — so, her having a player’s perspective has been great for all of us, and we’ve gotten some great feedback.”
Thompson expanded on the fact that Kepler strives to work on improving players as individuals, taking “initiative.”
“We even had a conversation last week just about training in the summer, and what specific things I should work on,” she said. “For someone to take that time, to kind of bring me aside, and let me know what I need to do to get better — I appreciate it so much.”
The team’s captain said Kepler’s multiple roles serve as inspiration for everyone on the team.
“Girls look up to her, I look up to her as a role model, knowing that you can do both, and she’s a perfect example of who does that,” graduate student defenseman Jessica DiGirolamo said.
Those inspired by Kepler include the coaching staff. Coach Flanagan said Kepler serves as the “affable” alternative to the “old curmudgeon,” in terms of being able to reach the players in a relatable way. Flanagan said her professional experience has also helped in the coaches’ room with both him and Associate Head Coach Brendon Knight.
“I’m learning a lot from her — she’s kind of ‘hot off the press’ in terms of playing pro,” Flanagan said. “For me sometimes, I’ll be…of the old-school mentality. But sometimes, I’ll bounce things off her and I like to get her impressions, and she’s helped me a lot. She’s been good for both Brendon and I.”