A 19-year-old goalie from a small southern Manitoba town is on his way to the big league.
Cole Kehler, originally from Altona, Man., has signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings, the team announced on Friday.
"Our minor hockey system is always proud of our players but this is just an exceptional level for someone to reach and we couldn't be more pleased to say Cole Kehler is from Altona," said Jason Pilkington, the president of the Altona Minor Hockey Association.
The six-foot-four, 205-pound goalie has been playing with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League and was an unrestricted free agent.
In a video posted on Twitter, Kehler said it's been very exciting.
"It's a big step in the right direction. From the day you start playing hockey and pick up a stick it's something that you dream of, for sure," he said.
Kehler's drive and talent was clear to those in his home community, about 95 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, Pilkington said.
"As I watched him as he was growing up, he seemed like one of those kids that was always working hard, trying to get better and really wanted to pursue that next level hockey for himself," he said.
"It's not an easy road to even make it out of a minor hockey system into a junior, let alone the WHL and an NHL contract."
Winter life in rural communities often revolves around the rink, with kids and parents gathering to play or support each other, Pilkington said. But it will mean even more to kids in Altona to know that an NHL player has skated on that ice too.
Even though there's a lot of Winnipeg Jets support, Pilkington said given Kehler's connection to Altona, he wouldn't be surprised if Kings jerseys start showing up at the rink.
"I could see some Kings fans showing up in the next few years for sure," he said with a laugh.
The Portland Winterhawks goalie posted a 17-4-0-1 record, .931 SV%, 2.20 GAA and two shutouts this season.https://t.co/xbR8hM9DgO— @LAKings