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Trip Down Memorial Lane: Wake-up call launched Spokane Chiefs defenseman Jon Klemm’s long NHL career

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 31, 2020

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Bryan Maxwell became Spokane Chiefs head coach before the 1989-90 season, and one of his coaching tenets was very simple.

“Be honest,” Maxwell said. “Don’t ever lie.”

That meant he wouldn’t lie to players, and he didn’t want players to lie to him.

When 19-year-old defenseman Jon Klemm wasn’t playing well, Maxwell called the Western Hockey League veteran in for a meeting.

“I know it like it was yesterday,” Klemm, now associate coach for the Winnipeg Ice, said from his offseason home in Cranbrook, British Columbia. “I came into camp and I wasn’t in very good shape. I had a little too much fun over the summer.”

Klemm said Maxwell sat him down and told the defenseman that he’d been trying to trade him, but no team was interested.

“And that’s pretty much how it went,” Klemm said. “It was an eye-opener for me.”

Maxwell remembers putting it more diplomatically.

“I can remember him coming in one day asking if I was trading him, and I said, ‘Yes, I’ve entertained that thought,’ ” Maxwell said. “He wasn’t playing very well. He said, ‘Give me two weeks.’ ”

Maxwell did.

Klemm turned it around. The following season (1990-91, Klemm captained the Chiefs to a Memorial Cup championship. The playoff run keyed the rest of Klemm’s professional career, which included two Stanley Cup championships across 15 NHL seasons.

“It was everything for me,” Klemm said of winning the Memorial Cup. “I was an overage, unsigned player, undrafted player, going into his last year of juniors, and I think if we were a last-place team or a team that wasn’t very good, I probably wouldn’t have the pro career that I have.”

To high-scoring teammate Pat Falloon, the value was reciprocal.

“He was the stellar defenseman we had on that team,” Falloon said. “There’s no way we woulda won that championship without him.”

Klemm carves out ‘vital role’ with team

Klemm’s WHL career wasn’t defined by big stat totals. In 274 regular-season games – 204 of those with the Chiefs – he scored 23 goals and added 128 assists. He went undrafted as a teenager.

But when the Chiefs started winning, scouts flocked to their games to see highlight-reel players like Falloon, Ray Whitney and Steve Junker. The 20-year-old Klemm caught the eye of NHL scouts as a potential free agent.

Just after the first round of the WHL playoffs in 1991, the Quebec Nordiques signed Klemm and sent him to play for their American League affiliate in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“The teams out there weren’t very good,” Klemm said of his two seasons in Halifax. “But we grew together.”

After two more seasons in the AHL with the Cornwall Aces – Quebec’s affiliate moved – Klemm made a lasting move to the NHL just as the Nordiques relocated to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche in May 1995.

Thirteen months later, Klemm and the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.

Adam Deadmarsh, the Chiefs’ current assistant coach, had 17 points in 22 playoff games as a winger on that Avalanche team.

“He played a vital role,” Deadmarsh said of Klemm. “He had a unique position where he did a little bit of a rover. Depending on the night, the coach could play him on defense or at forward. He was versatile in that he could play either.”

Klemm got a spot in the starting lineup with the Avalanche when defenseman Ewe Krupp went down with an injury.

But in the first round of the playoffs, Krupp returned, which meant Klemm shifted to playing right wing to stay in the lineup.

“It was something I had to adjust to and I enjoyed,” Klemm said. “I killed a lot of penalties, kind of a role player. I tried to cause havoc on the other team’s defense.”

Klemm won another Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001 alongside Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Ray Borque and Patrick Roy. He played in the NHL until 2007 with later stops in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

In all, he played 773 regular-season games and another 105 in the playoffs.

He never had more than 24 points in a season, but he was versatile and reliable.

“His style of play tended to lead to comfort on the ice,” Deadmarsh said. “He took his job as far as keeping the puck out of our net pretty serious. He wasn’t out there to score goals. He was out there to keep them out of our net.”

After retiring as a player, Klemm was drawn to coaching. In 2009, he became an assistant coach for the Chiefs.

“It’s where everything kinda started for me,” Klemm said of Spokane. “I loved the organization, loved the people in the organization, and that hadn’t changed when I came in as a coach.”

Klemm spent four seasons in Spokane before moving to Dallas to be closer to family in 2013. He returned to the WHL in 2017 as an assistant with the Kootenay Ice, who since moved to Winnipeg.

Klemm and Whitney were the only two members of that Memorial Cup team to hoist a Stanley Cup. Memories of both his junior and pro titles still stand out for Klemm.

“Winning a championship, it doesn’t matter what level you’re playing at,” Klemm said. “It’s a pretty big deal.”

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