Leaving home to play hockey is nothing new for Red Deer Optimist Chiefs centre Daylan Kuefler
Not only is the Stettler native playing midget AAA in Red Deer but as a 14 year-old he picked up his skates and headed to Phoenix, Ariz., to play a year with the Jr Coyotes bantam AAA squad.
“My dad played junior B hockey with Shane Doan and he called me and said they were building a team to compete in the nationals and asked what were be my thoughts of living with him for a year and playing there and I thought why not,” Kuefler explained. “It was about the experience and the hockey. Everything was awesome, they treated me so good it felt like home.”
Daylan did his part as well as the Coyotes reached the national semifinals before losing out.
It was while in Phoenix he found out he was selected by the Kamloops Blazers in the 10th round (212th overall) in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
“Not one had talked to me, but someone called me and said was drafted. I checked it out and was surprised and excited.”
Despite his late pick, Daylan wasn’t worried heading into the 2017 camp.
“Everyone said once you got there everyone was in the same boat,” he said. “I just went in and did my best.”
That proved good enough as the Blazers signed the 16-year-old to a standard education agreement this summer and kept him around for the exhibition season.
“I played four or five preseason games … it was a great experience,” he said.
He returned to the Chiefs and teaming with two other returnees — Brett Meerman and Deegan Mofford — has led the Chiefs to a first-place tie with Lethbridge in the Alberta Midget Hockey League’s South Division.
“Brett and I played together last year so that helped the chemistry and Deegan is also a returnee so that helped as well.”
Meerman leads the Chiefs in scoring with eight goals and 16 assists and sits fifth in the AMHL with 24 points. Kuefler is second on the team with 19 points with eight goals and 11 helpers. Mofford also has eight goals and the trio sit one goal, back of Jace Paarup for the team lead.
At six-foot, 170-pounds Daylan as the size to play junior, but also knows he has to add strength.
“They (Blazers coaches) just told me to continue to grow and work on a few things to get better,” he said.
He felt playing with the Chiefs, under head coach Doug Quinn, would only help his development.
“Playing here has been great. We have an awesome coaching staff and I’ve developed so much as a player. I just found I’m bigger and faster and being put into different situations has helped a lot.”
Quinn asked Daylan to move from the wing to centre this season.
“I played the wing since first-year peewee, but when Doug asked I figured I’d give it a try and it’s worked out.”
Daylan’s development has been steady. As a 15-year-old he turned in a solid rookie season with the Chiefs, scoring 12 goals and 19 assists in 35 games, yet he has to laugh about the year.
“I had a growth spurt and had to find my feet … I fell down a lot as I wasn’t used to my body.”
Kuefler doesn’t look at himself as a goal-scorer, or a passer.
“I like to score, like everyone else, but honestly I do what I can to help the team. I want this team to go far and I’m doing everything I can to help that work out. I figure if I’m working my hardest and keep pushing myself things will fall into place and be as they should be.”
Kuefler is looking forward to the rest of the season as the Chiefs have lost only twice, sitting with a 12-2-4 record.
“We started a little slow with a new team but we’re starting to click now,” added Kuefler, who is looking forward to the Calgary Mac’s Christmas Tournament.
“(The Mac’s) last year was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “We lost in the final so hopefully we can come out on top this year.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org