It’ll be tough not seeing Keegan Pruden in a Kalkaska Rhinos uniform in 2017-18.
Last year’s team captain, Pruden leaves the Rhinos as the team’s all-time leading goal scorer after compiling 77 points last season.
“Keegan’s relentless work ethic and commitment to details together with his leadership played a huge role in our success last year,” noted Rhinos coach-GM Krzysztof Oliwa.
Pruden, a 21-year-old product of Fort McMurray, Alberta, skated last season in Kalkaska with his younger brother, Brayden.
“There were so many positives last season,” said Pruden. “I know for myself and my brother, we got a little more used to living away from home and became a lot more independent. Also, new teammates and a coaching staff from all around the world meant more friends and we definitely got to learn about some backgrounds of others. I became a better leader and started to believe in myself more and of course, the strength and skill that came with it were huge positives as well.”
And playing for a former NHLer and Stanley Cup champion in Oliwa had its perks, too.
“It was awesome,” Pruden said. “A lot of people would think that because of the role Oli played in the NHL, he would be a lot like the other coaches like him who teach a very strong, physical game full of grinders and fighters. But he is completely the opposite, teaching a very skilled and well-rounded game while of course maintaining some physicality. The off-ice training he does may be the best as well as hardest in junior hockey.”
Being one of several aboriginal players with the Rhinos last year was another positive.
“My background is huge and it’s very important to me,” said Pruden. “I would like to keep portraying the best examples possible for future aboriginal athletes. So it made it that much more special that I got to share the experience with my brother and fellow aboriginal players.”
Moving away from home to skate in the USPHL was also a decision Pruden does not regret.
“When you’re younger when you’re still in minor hockey, the decision is so much harder to choose to be away from home, especially if you were as far from home as my brother Brayden and I were,” said Pruden. “A lot of thought went into the whole process. For myself, I was ready to take on the challenge as soon as I got to feel what the summer training would be like. For my brother not so much, but because I was going, it made it a lot easier for him. Our families had some say because they don’t really want you to be far enough where they can’t watch, but they did want us to pursue and accomplish our dreams, so it all worked well.
“The Kalkaska community was great. It seemed a bit quiet at first, but as time went on and we got out and around more, it got better. The fans were amazing. The younger Rhinos teams were great. All the events we got to take part in, all the team meals, the restaurants, the arena staff, and of course our coaching staff, was great as can be. Cannot complain about much. My game improved a lot as both an individual and as a team player. I excelled a lot with my individual skills, but most of all, my leg strength and my confidence with the puck improved most.”
Next season, Pruden will play college hockey in Canada at Portage College in Lac La Biche, Alberta.
“They compete at a very high level and I am very excited for the opportunity,” noted Pruden.
In leaving the Rhinos, Pruden offered advice for future players:
1. Get out of your comfort zones. Living away from home is hard and playing with a lot of people you don’t know is even harder. But it’s all a part of the process and gets harder as you progress, so get out of that comfort zone, try some new things, meet some new people, and don’t be afraid to show everyone who YOU really are.
2. Hard work beats skill and it’s a necessary attribute for the future levels of hockey. So push yourself and don’t be afraid to fail because you can always get better by bringing yourself back up.
3. Be positive. The more positive you are towards yourself, and towards others, especially teammates and coaches, the better off you will be. Everyone makes mistakes and the best thing we can do is learn from them and take away the positives.
4. Don’t be afraid of Coach Oliwa. He’s there to get the best out of you, and there to make sure you evolve as a hockey player. So don’t take things the wrong way, it’s all very straightforward and up front, but it’s to help YOU not him. So listen, and do as your told. He’s been there before, so I think he knows a little bit.
5. Lastly, have FUN. It’s the game of hockey. Always be prepared, stay hydrated, eat lots, and train hard. But have fun doing it!
The Kalkaska Rhinos organization congratulates Keegan on moving up to play Canadian college hockey and we wish him the best in the future!
WATCH Keegan’s 2016-17 Highlight Video
Source: Kalkaska Rhinos