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Kenins tough road to the NHL


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Ronalds Kenins, whose life to date reads like a Dickens novel, says he doesn't spend a lot of time contemplating his journey, mostly because he's preoccupied with other matters these days.

"I don't look back," said the Canucks' rookie forward in what amounts to a thesis statement on the subject. "I know I've been lucky and a lot of people have helped me. But Im only looking forward."

And you can understand his position because, for Kenins, there's no real percentage in wondering what if.

So we can ask, what if his mother didn't have a connection to countryman Harije Vitolinish, who was coaching in Switzerland?

Or what if Kenins didn't land in the Zurich Lions' organization and immediately encounter a couple of coaches/father figures who filled a huge void in his life?

Or what if his first two coaches on the Lions' parent club weren't Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford, who'd mould the young man into a pro? And what if Crawfords brother Eric wasn't the Canucks' director of player personnel?

And what if the Canucks hadn't fast-tracked a contract to Kenins before the Winnipeg Jets made him an offer?

What if none of that happened?

What if, each step along the way, others didn't see something in Kenins that made them want to help?

In his first year in North America, the 23-year-old Latvian has seemingly dropped from the sky into the Canucks' grateful arms, bringing with him an uncompromising work ethic and a robust, two-way game, and maybe that's the only relevant aspect of his story.

But that other stuff sure is interesting.

"He's a tough, hard-nosed kid who's had to work for everything he's got and he's had to do it by himself," said Crawford from Zurich, where he's in his third year of coaching the Lions.

"He dreamt of being a player and he was willing to do anything to fulfil that dream. It's not just kids from Saskatchewan who have that dream."

Kenins is now eight games into his NHL career, but his mere presence in The Show is a testimonial to his drive and ambition, to say nothing of the outside forces that shaped him.

He was raised by a single mother, Inara, and, according to Crawford, didn't have a lot of guidance while growing up in Riga. There was, however, a connection to Vitolinish, a Latvian national who played eight games with the Winnipeg Jets in the early '90s and was coaching in Switzerland, and that was Kenins's first break.

The second break, such as it was, was landing a place with the Oberthurgau Pikes in a Swiss junior league, which brought him to the attention of the Lions. Kenins would lead the junior team in scoring but, more important, would be coached by Christian Ruegg, his first in a series of hockey mentors.

"It was tough to leave my family and go to a place where you don't know the language and you don't have any friends," said Kenins. "But (Ruegg) was just so good. When I got there I didn't know anything skating, stickhandling, the drills. He helped me so much."

A year later, Kenins graduated to GC Kusnacht in the top Swiss junior league, where he played for Henrik Groth. The next season he split time between the junior team and the Lions' farm team as he was turning 20. And, in 2011-12, he graduated to the Lions' parent team, where he played under Hartley for a season.

"Those coaches became father figures to him," said Crawford. "(The Lions) is a great organization. He lucked out."

Maybe, but you can't say Kenins squandered his opportunity. Following his year under Hartley, his orbit collided with Crawford who, like so many others, saw something special in the young Latvian.

Kenins's numbers that season 3-14-17 weren't exactly dazzling, but the effort and the physicality were, and late that season Crawford mentioned his young charge to his brother Eric.

Eric Crawford dispatched Canucks scout Lars Lindgren to the world championship to watch Kenins play for Latvia, and an invitation was extended to the Canucks' prospect camp that summer.

By then, Kenins had also caught the attention of the Winnipeg Jets, but the Canucks stepped up with a contract offer in late July and the player, who wasn't on anybody's radar two years before, was suddenly the property of an NHL team.

Last season, Kenins won a Swiss league championship with Crawford and the Lions while he was under contract to the Canucks.

"The first time anyone laid eyes on him was at that development camp," said Eric Crawford. "But you could see the things Marc was talking about. Those kind of players have to have that internal push to be competitive, and he has that."

OK, eight NHL games doesn't make a career, but Kenins has been a revelation since his promotion from Utica on Jan. 30.

The three goals are found money for the Canucks, but the more lasting impression has been provided by Kenins's willingness to hit anything that moves. Against the Bruins on Friday night he registered eight hits, half of them on Zdeno Chara, and helped change the game.

Latvian rookies, typically, don't make their reputation by launching themselves at 6-foot-9 Hall of Fame defencemen, but Kenins has demonstrated he isn't a typical rookie.

As luck would have it, Kenins can now play in Switzerland as a non-import, a development which, in Crawford's words, makes him "gold."

But when asked about returning to Switzerland, Kenins said: "That's why I'm here. I want to play in the best league in the world."

"You see how hard the kid works and how he competes," said Marc Crawford. "He belongs in North America. In the game over here he'd take too many penalties and he'd scare the crap out of everybody. I'm really happy for the kid."

Crawford was asked if there are any more players like Kenins in Switzerland.

"There's a couple, but I need to get on the (Canucks') payroll," he said with a laugh. "Tell them the first one is free."

Except free, in this case, has never been more valuable.

Great summary of Kenins story to the Canucks. He's a heck of a player, has never been given anything battling all his career, and a true warrior.

Was always especially interested in seeing how he would do with us after his Olympic outing with Latvia. Still remember how viciously he and the Latvians played Canada that day, had a whole new, renewed respect for them. Kenins is fortunate to have Hartley and Cro have coached and mentored him on the Lions, and very nice of Cro to go out of his way and direct the Canucks towards Ronalds. One of my favourite players on the team without a doubt :)

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Ronalds Kenins is going to be a fan favourite.

Absolutely love the guy. Plays his heart out, great player, and according to this article, he's had a tough journey. His game looks to translate to the NHL pretty good.

One things for sure, you are now a Canuck, Kenins.

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It's just too bad Kesler wanted out, I think Kenins, Kesler and Kassian would have made a good and tough line. Just have no idea what we would have called it.

Lol, nah, I'm happy Kes is gone. Appreciate all he did here but he wanted out so we have to honour his request and did. Have moved on but he was a big part of our franchise.

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Lol, nah, I'm happy Kes is gone. Appreciate all he did here but he wanted out so we have to honour his request and did. Have moved on but he was a big part of our franchise.

Ditto. I certainly won't discount Kesler's contribution to the Canucks, but he requested to move on from our organization so we'll all turn the page on an old chapter.

Kenins has played extremely well in his appointed role and it definitely doesn't hurt that he found instant chemistry with Bo Knows. I love the energy he brings every shift and hat-tip to Crawford for giving us an inside edge on this diamond in the rough. B)

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