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Flames coach Bob Hartley and Vancouver Canucks forward Ronalds Kenins familiar with each other


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VANCOUVER – Stubborn: It’s fair to say Bob Hartley can be described that way.

Did you realize the Calgary Flames coach also respects hard-headedness upon meeting his match?

In fact, it’s one of the traits possessed by Ronalds Kenins which made Hartley come to appreciate the young Vancouver Canucks winger. Actually, appreciate isn’t a strong enough word. Ask Hartley how he feels about the rookie, whose team he’s up against in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Hartley will outright gush.

“I have lots of time time for Ronnie,” Hartley said when Kenins was mentioned to him. “I love this kid. He’s a great kid. I’m so happy to see him in the in NHL.”

Oh, but there was a time Hartley had his fill of the now 24-year-old from Latvia.

It was early in the 2011-12 season, while Hartley was coaching the Zurich Lions in Switzerland, and Kenins was a youngster trying to make the jump for the junior ranks. As Hartley relays the story, remember how he’s known for being extremely demanding of his players, especially young ones, who must learn to do things to his standards.

“He was not executing the drill the right way and I blew the whistle once, I blew the whistle twice and on the third time, I kicked him out of practice,” Hartley recalled. “Ronnie, he wouldn’t go to the locker-room. He sat on the bench.

“After a while, I said this kid has too much character for me to ignore him, so I went to him and said, ‘Are you ready to come back?’ He said yes and I told him he’d better listen.

“That’s where our story started.”

Kenins may have faced plenty of wrath from Hartley during their season together, but will be the first to admit he wouldn’t be a NHLer, skating in the Stanley Cup playoffs, without that tough love.

“He was the reason, for sure, I got better and I got here to the NHL. He’s a great coach. He was tough, though, but I learned a lot,” said Kenins, who is part of a Canucks energy line with fellow rookie Bo Horvat.

“I didn’t know about angling players, or working with my stick (placement when defending), things like that. It was a lot of video and it was hard to watch almost every day, but he taught you.

“Every time you had a bad practice, he would call you after practice and give you heck, and you’d be sad. But when he called you in his office, he’d tell you all the bad stuff but he’d make sure you didn’t walk away with your head down.

“He would tell you good stuff and let you know he believed you can play hockey.”

Hartley’s belief in Kenins, stems from more than just the youngster’s ability to hold firm that day in practice.

He truly respects how Kenins left his homeland at age 15 to go to Switzerland thanks to the help of a family friend - Harije Vitolinish, who was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1993 and had a cup of coffee in the NHL – and excelled despite the odds.

“I have a hockey camp and some kids get homesick and they’re half an hour from their house,” Hartley said. “Here’s a kid who traveled to a country and knew no one, couldn’t even speak the language, and he found a way to get it done. Not only did he get it done, when I watched a game of his while in junior, he was a leader.”

Not only did Kenins win a championship in Switzerland that season under Hartley, he also claimed another last year under former Canucks coach Marc Crawford, on top of playing for Latvia at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and joined the Canucks system.

He was summoned from the AHL in late January, burst onto the scene with a pair of goals in his first three NHL contests and became a fan favourite for throwing his 6-foot, 201-lb., frame at anything that moves, culminating a fantastic journey, but one he says he knew could happen.

“I know if you’re a big believer and you trust yourself, you can achieve a lot in your life,” said Kenins, who speaks four languages: Latvian, Russian, Swiss-German and English. “I always have my head up. When people told me, ‘You have no chance,’ I didn’t believe them. I believed in myself.

“I got that chance and I told myself if I have that chance, I will take it right away.”

Just as proud as a father, even if he’s on the other bench, is Hartley.

“In the first game, he was on the ice and our eyes kind of connected and I saw a little smile from him,” Hartley said. “I hate to compete against him, but at the same time, I have the utmost respect for him.”

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Guest Dasein

IMO Kenins has serious offensive upside. Definitely more than a 4th line checker and banger. Big things from him next fall.

Probably Higgins's replacement on 3LW when his contract runs out

My guess is that we will let Matthias walk as a UFA, have Sven on 2LW, Higgins 3LW and Kenins 4LW next season

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