Coming up through the minor hockey ranks Kaiden Kanderka was forced to work extra hard for everything he got.
Twice he tried out for the Red Deer Midget AAA Chiefs, only to come away disappointed.
But that didn’t stop him from setting a goal to play junior A hockey. In fact if anything it made him more determined.
“I was kind of the underdog growing up … a late bloomer,” said the 19-year-old, who is in his second season with the AJHL’s Olds Grizzlys.
“My first year of midget I was cut from the AAA team and sent directly to midget A. That was motivation for me to work harder to make sure I could make it to the next level.
“I also grew a lot that season which helped me as well.”
Although he was disappointed that year he was even more so the following season when he once again came up short in his bid to make AAA. He went to AA and once again midget A. But things turned in his favour as he got an opportunity to tryout for the Central Alberta Selects midget AA team in Lacombe.
“It was devastating being sent down so I was looking for somewhere else to play and found Lacombe,” explained Kaiden. “They gave me a chance and it worked out.”
He had a solid season with the Selects scoring 11 goals and chipping in with 15 assists in 36 games, third best on the team.
His final year of midget saw him go in a different direction.
Instead of trying out for the midget AAA Chiefs, he attended a couple combines and received an invitation to attend the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, B.C.
“That was great,” he said. “I learned a lot about my game and the metal side of the game.”
That led to his fulfilling a dream of playing junior A as he signed with the Grizzlys.
“I had a couple other offers but wanted to be close to home and I liked the coach (Joe Murphy),” he said. “He’s been great in directing and developing different parts of my game.”
Kaiden looks back at his minor hockey career and believes it has a lot to do where he is today.
“I had to fight and work hard for everything I got which is what I still do today,” he said. “That time taught me a lot … what I had to do to make the next level.”
That’s the style the six-foot-four, 195-pound forward takes to the ice. It showed during his first season with the Grizzlys as he received the President’s Award for his dedication and perseverance.
“It definitely felt good being acknowledged on how hard I worked and what I brought to the team. It’s motivation to keep pushing.”
He finished with seven goals and four helpers in 49 games his rookie season while picking up 141 penalty minutes.
“The penalty minutes were something different for me, not part of my game until last year. I started using my size to my advantage and to support the team.
“That seemed to add up to a couple more penalty minutes,” he said with a chuckle.
Kanderka has a goal and two helpers in seven starts this season and has found himself playing all three forward positions.
“I like the wing a bit better because it allows me to use my speed, which is one of my assets, to create more offensively,” he said. “But I don’t mind centre as I like playing the defensive game as well. I’ll do whatever helps us to have success.”
The Grizzlys have posted a 2-5 record to start the season, but Kaiden feels they have the talent to improve.
“We’re still figuring things out and piecing it together and working on our chemistry, but I’m excited about our future.”
The fact Kaiden knows the league will only help, the team and himself.
“That first year I needed to play to learn the league,” he said. “This year I’m more confident as I know how it works, know the speed and what it takes to be successful. By piecing it all together I hope to have a good year.”
He has one year of junior remaining after this season and he’d like nothing better than to receive a scholarship.
“I haven’t talked with anyone, but that’s my goal,” he said. “I’ll just have to keep playing my game and those chances will come.”
Kaiden and the Grizzlys will be tested this weekend as they play a twin bill at home against the two top teams in the league. They host the 6-0 Brooks Bandits Saturday at 7 p.m. and the 7-0 Sherwood Park Crusaders Sunday at 2 p.m.
“Playing the toughest teams is fun but also gut-check time,” concluded Kanderka.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org