The mid-summer months are quiet months for most hockey players. There are summer workouts, some golf, and some downtime before the rigors of winter begin again. There certainly isn’t a great deal of competitive hockey on the calendar, except for a handful of players who switch their blades for wheels. That includes one former Steelhead who is again among the world’s best.
Last week in Bratislava, goaltender Jerry Kuhn won his second gold medal as a member of the US National Inline Team at the IIHF Inline World Championship. Team USA topped Finland 4-2 in the Final, capturing Team USA’s seventh gold medal at the roller hockey tournament.
“It was pretty special. I won gold four years ago, and the first time around it was really exciting,” said Kuhn. “This time around I was in a little bit of a different role, but the group was awesome. And Bratislava is a place I hadn’t been, so it was fun and great to top it off with a gold medal.”
Kuhn stood between the pipes in Boise for 70 games over parts of two seasons to start his pro career, joining the Steelheads after his senior season at Western Michigan University in 2011 and playing a big part in two playoff runs before continuing his career in Europe. Kuhn is still playing professionally in Germany, but for years the summer months have been time for roller hockey.
Kuhn has played for the National Team four times at the World Championships, winning two golds and a bronze. In the most recent tournament, he went 2-0 and stopped 16 of 19 shots.
“You’re there to represent your country and that’s a special privilege,” said Kuhn. “As soon as you put on that jersey, you’re not just representing yourself but also your country. In situations like that, people step up and play their best.”
While there are plenty of ice hockey players who also play roller hockey in the summer, the two skill sets are very different. A player on the Steelheads who has never played competitive roller hockey would not likely be able to hop into a top-tier roller hockey game and feel comfortable.
For one, roller hockey is played 4-on-4 with no offside rule. As far as the actual flow of play, skaters obviously can’t rely on the same edgework for stopping and change of direction that they can on the ice. The game has a much slower pace reliant on finesse and playmaking as opposed to up-and-down speed.
It’s a different game for the goaltenders as well.
“For a goalie, you can’t slide or shuffle at all, which makes it extremely hard,” said Kuhn. “When I play roller, I stay deeper in my net and use my reflexes a little more. Hopefully the puck hits me.”
There are plenty of players from the pro ranks on national teams from around the world, but there are also players on Team USA from other walks of hockey life, with the roster including players from the SPHL, Division III college hockey, and others who played roller hockey exclusively at the collegiate level.
There is AHL, European, and ECHL talent there as well, including Kuhn’s teammate in the US crease, Troy Redmann. Redmann was in training camp with the Steelheads at the start of last season and played with Utah during the year.
“There are ton of players. In Germany, I play ice hockey with a lot of the guys who were at this tournament. Every team is pretty much filled with ice hockey players from around the world,” said Kuhn. “With a lot of my good friends that I’ve known for seven or eight years, I don’t get to see them much of the year. But in the summers we pick up right where we left off.”
Even when he was playing in Idaho, Kuhn was on the roller rink in the summers. With so many seasoned hockey players in the mix, many coming off full ice hockey campaigns, the roller season requires a quick transition.
“Honestly I just switch my skates for roller blades. There are a couple of summer tournaments that we play in that help us get ready for the World Championships, but that’s about it,” said Kuhn. “We have a really long training camp after tryouts that gets us ready. It lets the ice hockey guys get used to roller hockey again and that helps the group.”
Kuhn also plays with a tournament team in the summers, having already won some hardware earlier in the season with Alkali Hockey. While Kuhn enjoys his roller hockey success as a hobby, he has proven himself several times over to be among the best in the world. His pro career on the ice is still thriving as well.
Last season, Kuhn had a .920 save percentage and a 2.68 goals-against average with the Fischtown Pinguins of the DEL in Germany, which earned him a new contract in the league with Grizzlys Wolfsburg.
“It’s been really good. This past year we moved up to the DEL, and I was lucky to have a really good year,” said Kuhn. “I think I’m making a name for myself over there, which is pretty cool. I’d like to play another four or five years if I can and milk it as much as possible before I decide to hang it up.”
The atmosphere at the rink in Germany is somewhat different that at CenturyLink Arena.
“It’s like a soccer game. The fans are going the whole time and there’s chanting the whole game. It’s really intimidating, but it’s also really fun to play in. You see some crazy stuff that you don’t normally see here.”
Although Kuhn is loving his time playing in Europe, don’t count out a return to Idaho sometime down the line. That may even come after Kuhn’s playing days are over.
“If it were up to my wife we’d be finishing in Boise and buying a house to put our roots down there. I think that’s her dream,” said Kuhn, who visited Idaho again last summer to see former teammate Cody Lampl. “It’s an awesome city for families, and my wife has been dying to go back.”
For now, he prepares to go back to Germany as his family prepares to welcome its newest member. Already with a young daughter, the Kuhn’s are expecting again. With a new contract, a new baby on the way, and a gold medal, Jerry Kuhn is getting everything he wants this summer.