By Jason Pirie
CALGARY, AB — Six months.
That’s how long Keegan Kanzig had to wait between pro appearances with the Stockton Heat.
Instead of bemoaning about being sent back for a fifth Western Hockey League tour of duty after dressing for a single game, however, the 6-foot-7, 247-pound defenceman decided to make the most of it.
Quit stewing and start doing.
“Actually, I was moving into a new place in Stockton the day I received a call telling me I was being sent back to junior,” said the 6-foot-7, 247-pound Kanzig, who the Calgary Flames nabbed with their third round, 67th overall, pick at the 2013 NHL Draft.
“It was a perfect place right across from the rink. At least I got to stay one night.”
Welcome to the pro hockey life, kid.
Not an ideal situation to say the least.
Neither was being relegated to the press box as a healthy scratch – due to a numbers game more than anything else – for five of Stockton’s first six contests of the season.
“At first, being sent back to junior was a huge disappointment, and to be honest I was bitter about it, but,” Kanzig said, “it turned out to be the best thing for me. I love the city of Calgary, and the Calgary Hitmen organization is second to none, so it wasn’t like I was going to a place I didn’t like.
“And to top it all off, I was able to have a good year.”
As an overager with the Hitmen, the Athabasca, AB native did his due diligence by notching a career-high 13 goals and 20 points with 75 penalty minutes in 53 games.
In fact, there was even a span following the holiday break where the hulking blueliner went on an unlikely scoring tear, burying six goals in as many games (he had buried a total of six over his first four junior campaigns combined).
It was a during the first period of a mid-season contest against provincial arch-rival Edmonton that demonstrated just how valuable Kanzig can be, though, when he scored twice within a span of 55 seconds before rushing to a teammate’s rescue and dropping the mitts with fellow overager and New Jersey Devils prospect Brandon Baddock.
“I made a lot of improvements throughout my time in that league,” said Kanzig, who finished his WHL tenure with an impressive plus-44 rating and a whopping 565 penalty minutes. “I have definitely become a lot more confident with and without the puck. I’m not strictly defensive anymore; I like to do my best to add some offence.
“Recognizing what I can contribute, I was given some offensive opportunities with the Hitmen and I was able to take advantage of those.”
With his junior career now in the rearview mirror, the 21-year-old is now focused solely on the task at hand.
To crack the pro game.
Cementing a reputation as one of the toughest defenders to play against in junior – led the WHL with 166 penalty minutes in 2014-15 – Kanzig is looking to bring that sandpaper game to the next level.
He also hopes to develop into more than a one dimensional player, having already made noticeable strides when it comes to his foot speed and mobility over the past season.
“I’ve been working really hard on my skating,” said Kanzig, who can be found on the ice in Calgary three to four times per week and who has been working on his technique with renowned Toronto-based skating coach Dawn Braid. “Being a bigger guy skating has always been viewed as my weakness, but it’s starting to come around. I’m feeling a lot faster and stronger and I feel my skating is ready for pro.”
Following his Hitmen being ousted in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Kanzig was reassigned to Stockton where he suited up for two games.
Still only a cup of coffee, but nevertheless an experience that he says should help him adjust this coming season.
“I just have to keep it simple, rely on the basics, and not try to do too much,” he said. “I have to make sure I’m moving my feet, making good, simple passes and playing the body hard.
“I’m already familiar with the rink and some of the guys down there, so it will be nice that I can just focus on going down there and playing.”
And, while he’s at it, begin scouring the classifieds for new digs.