Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Klinkhammer's Journey from Lethbridge to Pyeongchang

Lethbridge's Rob Klinkhammer will be adding a few more Frequent Flyer Miles to his cards.

His path to the NHL has been well-documented, with tales of digging ditches and over-eating. He wasn't drafted, but made his way through the hockey world from the Lethbridge Bantam AAA Golden Hawks to the Midget AAA Y's Men and eventually to the WHL, where he would suit up for the hometown Hurricanes, as well as Seattle, Portland and Brandon.

Klinkhammer's road eventually took him to the NHL, with stops in Chicago, Ottawa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Edmonton, not to mention a few stints in the AHL. Ahead of the 2016-2017 season, he headed overseas to play in the KHL. Little did he know, it would inadvertently open a major door. With the NHL not taking part in the 2018 Olympics, Hockey Canada would be looking to other leagues to put together a men's hockey team. The 31-year-old forward's phone rang.

"It was actually just after a game in Riga," Klinkhammer told Canes This Week in a call from his home in Russia. "I had a message on my phone from one of the media guys from Team Canada that said to call him."

"I went right into a conference call with Sean Burke and the head guys at Team Canada and they told me I was on the team," he laughed.

Klinkhammer was officially named to the team last week, something he's still in awe about, as it will be his first time donning the maple leaf.

"I was kind of speechless, I didn't know what to say," Klinkhammer said about the conversations. "I was just like 'thank you', I was kind of stuttering, you're almost in tears you're so happy. It's a pretty intense moment having something like that, it's kind of the pinnacle of my career."

His first phone call after receiving word he had made the team was to his wife, who was "pretty thrilled" with the announcement.

"It still doesn't seem real to be honest," he continued. "The closer we get to it, the more real it will seem."

Even though he was shocked, Klinkhammer knew he was in the running following the 2016 Spengler Cup, where he had some conversations about what could potentially happen if the NHL decided not to send players to Korea.

Klinkhammer also isn't shy about talking about the "elephant in the room." He says that while some might be upset about how it won't be the world's best facing off in Pyeongchang, he knows the hockey will still be good without names like Crosby, Ovechkin and McDavid.

BELOW: Listen to Joe McFarland's full conversation with Rob Klinkhammer in the Week #17 episode of Canes This Week.

"Guys like me, we have an opportunity of a lifetime to be honest," Klinkhammer said. "I still think the games will be very exciting and in this style of tournament, there's only three round robin games and then every game after that is elimination. Anything can happen."

Playing in the KHL has also given him an idea of what to expect in the Olympic tournament. It's still big and fast hockey on a bigger ice surface, which is something he admits took some time to adjust to. But now that he's embedded in it, he can now focus on the task at hand.

"There'll be a lot of butterflies," Klinkhammer admits. "It'll be kind of hard to stay within yourself and play your game. You almost have to calm yourself down because it'll be pretty wild. I haven't really thought it yet though, so it's kinda funny."

On the flipside, he also can't ignore the enormity of representing his country and his city.

"It kind of means everything," Klinkhammer said. "It's the greatest honour. Playing in the NHL was a dream come true, but if you compare the number of players who played in the NHL versus how many played in the Olympics, it's not even comparable."

"I'm very proud of being from Lethbridge, it's where I got my start," he continued. "I love the city, love the people and I'm glad to be from there."

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