In a time when many Tier III teams are struggling to fill their rosters, the Kalkaska Rhinos are ready to start their season. I stopped in to the Kaliseum Monday morning to see how things were going for the new team, and sure enough, things are going just as planned.
The reasons for Krzysztof Oliwa starting this new team have been well documented and do not need to be gone over in detail. Now is the time to move beyond the challenges presented by others, and tackle the challenges of developing young hockey players into better athletes and good young men.
As Oliwa and I chatted he ran his twenty players through a series of off ice training routines that was all to familiar to both of us. The approach is reminiscent of training practices in Europe that have been extremely successful for decades. It is not simply weight lifting or hockey specific fitness training, but is a total athlete development approach. Weight training, plyometrics, calisthenics, swimming, and on ice practices will only be part of the training.
“When I was growing up it was not just about being a better hockey player, it was about becoming a better athlete.” Said Oliwa “We didn’t always have ice available, so we played other sports and trained in other ways. This made us better athletes, and a better trained athlete can become a better player when looking at his specific sport of choice.”
The Rhinos players are learning quickly that playing for Oliwa will require hard work and dedication. Then again, they know what Oliwa went through to make it to the NHL, and he is no stranger to hard work.
Oliwa’s path to the United States and the NHL started in a Polish coal mine. Learning to repair machinery in the coal mine, he woke up at 4:30 A.M., boarded a train at 5:07 A.M., went underground at 6 A.M. and came up at 3:30 P.M. to go back and practice hockey. Definitely not a traditional start for a hockey career when looking at todays paths. Yet, this was not so long ago.
Urged by a scout to try out in Canada, he arrived alone in Welland, Ontario, to play for a Junior B team in the 1992-93 season. Arriving in North America with $40.00 in his pocket, skates, and not much else, he slept in a host family basement by a hot water heater. Not knowing the language, he attended English classes with players much younger than himself. A humbling but character growing experience.
Hard work, humility, dedication, and a selfless commitment to the game are what Rhinos players are learning now. In life, we want our children to follow quality people. In this game we want our children to achieve the highest level of success they are able to. In Kalkaska, the Rhinos players will be receiving the tools to achieve both.
The Rhinos will kick off their season this weekend with games against the Espanola Rivermen and Batchewana Attack. Both CIHL teams making room in their schedules to accommodate Oliwa’s Rhinos.
“I cant thank these guys enough. When I asked for games they were ready to play right away.” Said Oliwa “They put aside politics and put the players first. That’s why I am here and that’s what I want to be a part of. We will play anyone, any time, and putting player development and experience in front of playoffs or ticket sales is what we are all about.”
If Junior Hockey is about player development, the Kalkaska Rhinos are the definition of what the Junior Hockey experience is about. Make a kid believe they are capable of more than what they are, and they will be.
For more information on, or if your interested in playing for the Rhinos please visit www.kalkaskarhinos.com
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher