Rob Klinkhammer goes from ditch digger to full-time NHLer | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaRob Klinkhammer goes from ditch digger to full-time NHLer

Posted: Friday, December 20, 2013 | 11:50 AM

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Rob Klinkhammer has gone from overweight junior player to dedicated NHL pro with the Phoenix Coyotes. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Rob Klinkhammer has gone from overweight junior player to dedicated NHL pro with the Phoenix Coyotes. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Phoenix Coyotes forward Rob Klinkhammer wasn't drafted into juniors or the pros, but he beat the odds to become an NHL player and escape his ditch-digging days in Lethbridge, Alta.

A couple years after the 2004 release of Morgan Spurlock's Academy Award-nominated Supersize Me, a documentary that detailed the effects of what eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonalds every day did to the health of the film's director/star, a former ditch digger and future NHLer endured his own nasty brush with the Golden Arches.

"It was the dollar menu that did me in," Phoenix Coyotes forward Rob Klinkhammer says. "I would go there for lunch and for five bucks I would eat four burgers."

Klinkhammer was 19 years old, and for the first time in his junior career he was living away from home after his hometown Lethbridge Hurricanes traded him to the Seattle Thunderbirds.

His weight ballooned to 235 pounds. His play suffered. He missed time with injuries. He was down on himself and no longer thrilled with hockey.

Klinkhammer figured this was it for his junior career. He'd better enrol at the University of Calgary, play some varsity hockey and get an education.

"Ice cream got me, too," the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Klinkhammer confesses. "I loved ice cream. My roommate and I were eating a lot of crap late at night. I needed to grow up."

Klinkhammer never did make it to the University of Calgary. His father, Gerry, talked him into giving junior one final season as an overager. So the kid went to work in the gym like never before to whip himself into the best shape of his young career. He also became a health food nut.

"I wasn't happy with anything," the 27-year-old Klinkhammer says. "So I just wanted to completely dedicate myself to one year to see what happens."

What happened was he scored 33 goals and 73 points in 66 games for Seattle, the Portland Winter Hawks and Brandon Wheat Kings. He was on his way.

Digging deep

Klinkhammer landed a tryout with the Tampa Bay Lightning and played for their AHL affiliate in Norfolk, Va. He then moved to the Chicago Blackhawks system and after 234 AHL games played his first NHL game on Dec. 8, 2010 for Chicago.

Three years later, the undrafted Klinkhammer is a regular with the Coyotes. So what kept him going?

"I guess it's the love of the game," he says. "I know that sounds like a cliché.

"I guess a lot has to with when I was in junior, during the summer I worked 40 hours a week and after a long day of work I went to the gym. I hated that. I don't think a lot of juniors have to do that.

"But I needed the money to get me through the hockey season. I needed to pay for my car. I think working [at a regular job] motivated me. I didn't like that. It wasn't fun. If I could play hockey for as long as I can it would be great. I didn't know I would be in the NHL, but I'd rather be playing hockey than digging ditches."

Digging ditches? That's right, Klimkhammer's summer job was making four-foot wide, six-feet deep trenches for a natural gas company in the heat of the Southern Alberta summer, wearing coveralls.

He's come a long way from those days. Since he turned pro, Klinkhammer has not only developed his game, but also taken five online courses with the University of Athabasca, including a recently completed nutrition course.

He credits his parents, Ruth and Gerry, for his work ethic. Ruth, a freelance communications writer, made the two-hour drive back and forth from Lethbridge to Calgary a few times a week for work. Gerry worked almost 30 years as an electrical power linemen before his recent retirement.

Gerry, now a full-time scout for the Hurricanes, was an accomplished senior hockey player. He won the Allan Cup with the 1981-82 Cranbrook Royals.

It was Gerry who used a connection to then Hurricanes coach and general manager Bryan Maxwell -- the two grew up together -- to land his son a tryout as a 16-year-old.

The son made the most of the opportunity to become a full-time WHL player a couple years later in Lethbridge and, several years later, a regular with the Coyotes.

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