'I just never stopped': Altona-born goaltender signs with NHL's Los Angeles Kings
'I've lived and breathed [hockey],' Cole Kehler says
He's spent his entire life working toward getting into the National Hockey League, and now that he's signed a contract with the Los Angeles Kings, Cole Kehler says he couldn't have done it without the support of his parents.
"With the amount of work they've put in, I think to see me succeed the way I have, that was something special for them, and obviously something special for me as well," Kehler, 19, said.
After being away from home for the last five years playing hockey, the Altona-born goaltender said he was lucky to have his parents by his side as he inked the deal.
Just by chance, his parents were in Portland this weekend to watch him play.
"I got to have them in the room when I put pen to paper, so that was very special," Kehler, 19, said Sunday.
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. The Kings announced Friday they'd signed a three-year entry-level contract with Kehler.
"It's something I've dreamed of since I started playing the game and it's very exciting for me," said Kehler
He's been holding a hockey stick since before he can remember, and started playing organized hockey at the age of five, a year after he learned to skate.
"From there I just never stopped, and I've lived and breathed it ever since," he said, adding playing hockey is just what you do growing up in a small town in Manitoba.
"Being in a small rural community, that was the thing to do growing up — starting out with mini sticks with my friends at the senior games in town and through the minor hockey system there.
"If I wasn't from Canada, I don't think I'd be as into hockey as I am."
News of the signing spread in Altona quickly, and Kehler said he fielded calls all weekend long.
"My phone has just been blowing up," he said. "All my buddies and friends have been giving me the congratulations and things like that.
"It's pretty special, being from a small town, to have that tight-knit community and have everybody supporting me, it definitely feels pretty good."
Jason Pilkington, president of the Altona Minor Hockey Association told CBC News over the weekend Kehler's drive and talent was clear to those in his home community from an early age.
"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."
The three-year entry-level contract gives Kehler the chance to play in the Kings' farm system and tryout for the team.
"I'll play in their farm system for a few years and hopefully develop into their NHL starting goaltender," he said, adding his ultimate goal is to one day hoist the Stanley Cup. "But there's a lot of work that'll go into that. That's obviously the goal and hopefully one day I can achieve it."
For now Kehler will finish the season with the Portland Winterhawks — where his play between the pipes has helped lead the team to the top of the WHL's U.S. division — before going on to join one of the Kings' farm teams next year.
Kehler said signing with the Kings won't lead to many changes to his life just yet. He'll head back to training during the summer months, a routine he's had for years.
"I'm going to try to enjoy it, but the hard work only starts now," he said. "I'll be training again and the only difference is I'll be preparing to hopefully become a pro."
With files from Holly Bernier