By NEIL DAVIDSON
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Saturday, February 17, 2018
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA -- Rob Klinkhammer hasn't forgotten his summer job back in junior hockey. Digging ditches will stick with you.
His stepmother got him the job at ATCO Gas in Alberta.
"I was making big bucks at the time for a junior hockey player. I think I was making 18, 19 bucks an hour," the Team Canada winger recalled Friday at the Winter Games. "I thought I was a millionaire.
"But it was long, hard days - 10-hour days. I was doing a lot of manual labour. I was digging down to gas lines so the welder could get in there and change out gas lines. So it was a lot of hard work and it motivated me to work harder in hockey because I didn't want to do that kind of job for a living if I didn't have to."
A long way from that to the Olympics, a reporter remarked.
"It's kind of funny where you come from," Klinkhammer said with a laugh. "But I truly believe that kind of made me into the player and the man I am today - just good hard-working effort, a pretty honest guy. I owe a lot to that."
The 31-year-old from Lethbridge, Alta., continues his blue collar-role with Team Canada, playing on a line with Eric O'Dell and Maxim Lapierre. Just ask Swiss captain Raphael Diaz, thumped by Klinkhammer in the first period of Canada's 5-1 win on Thursday.
"I'd like to get a hit like that every shift if I could," said Klinkhammer, who packs a punch at 6 foot 2 and 216 pounds.
"That's our job to be physical. That's our line," he added. "We're not going to lead the team in scoring but we are going to lead the team in hits. That's what we're there to do."
He did come close to scoring, ringing a hard shot off the post.
"That line plays hard. They're a big line. I think they give us some energy," head coach Willie Desjardins said.
The Canadian men take on the Czech Republic on Saturday at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. The Czechs edged South Korea 2-1 in their tournament opener.
With the NHL stars back home, Klinkhammer and his largely unheralded teammates are carrying the Maple Leaf here. They are cherishing every minute.
"People ask me if this was ever a dream. Like no, it was never a dream," he said. "I never thought this would be a possibility, playing in the Olympics for Canada. I'm not going to go take Sidney Crosby's spot.
"So it's just an unbelievable experience. I'm taking every minute in and I'm so thankful to be here."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Klinkhammer called his Olympic debut "pretty nerve-wracking."
"I think my resting heart rate was about 175 there before the game," he said. "It was tough to calm down. I think about halfway through the game everyone started to settle in, kind of get the jitters out and just play ... It was good to get the first one out of the way and obviously get the win."
Undrafted after a junior career that took him from Lethbridge to Seattle, Portland and Brandon, Klinkhammer went on to score 22 goals and add 21 assists in 193 NHL games with Chicago, Ottawa, Phoenix/Arizona, Pittsburgh and Edmonton.
He also spent time with Norfolk, Rockford, Binghamton, Portland and Bakersfield in the AHL. Now in his third season in the KHL, he plays for Ak Bars Kazan.
Life is good there, he says. The team is wellrun with plenty of support and the city of Kazan is beautiful. The players and their families live together in a gated complex.
Some 8,200 kilometres away, Lethbridge has not forgotten him. His hometown paper, the Herald, has followed his progress closely.
And he has an army of local support here.
"I've got my wife and two boys, my father, stepmother, mother- and father-in-law and my mom," he said. "I've got a whole crew over here."
Switzerland goaltender Jonas Hillermakes a save against Canadian forward Rob Klinkhammer during men's hockey action in Gangneung, South Korea, on Thursday.
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS