I found this very insightful story written by Andrew Matte of the Star Phoenix in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan a couple of months ago. It does a great job of telling you who Garrett Klotz is and what he is all about. I am sure part of the attraction in coming to Allen is the Americans history of getting players called up to the AHL. I wouldn't be surprised if Klotz is in the line up this afternoon for the home opener.
Hockey star's NHL dream remains
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Klotz, 24, is among a handful of homegrown hockey heroes who are home for a summer break from their careers as professional players outside the Prairies. And while Klotz is lesser-known than NHL stars like
Saskatoon's Jared Cowen of the Ottawa Senators or Regina's Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he's envied by hockey-mad fans who share a universal dream of earning a paycheque playing Canada's sport.
The dream remains for this former Hockey Regina peewee star and Saskatoon Blades tough guy who presumed his entry into the NHL required little more than a rubber stamp after he was contacted by the team he idolized. The surprise Saturday morning call in 2007 from the Philadelphia Flyers was hockey's equivalent to a lottery win. In the following year, he was given a six figure signing bonus and an invitation to Pennsylvania to play on the team that grooms players for the storied Broad Street Bullies.
But affection for Klotz wasn't exactly overflowing in the City of Brotherly Love. He suffered a seizure when his head hit the ice after a knockout blow ended a fight in his first season with the American Hockey League's (AHL) Philadelphia Phantoms. After his contract with the Flyers ended, he hoped to be discovered again.
Outside of hockey, he learned there's little glory in mid-season moves to little-known American cities or missing out on family functions in Regina. After being disciplined for succumbing to temptations common among young sports stars, he learned that a late night out with the boys isn't the best way to deal with stress or boredom.
Today, with five years of pro hockey under his belt, the plan set in motion the day he was selected in the 2007 entry draft is unchanged, though he concedes to having his first thoughts about a future without the NHL.
"Back then, I expected to be in the NHL by now ... I had expected more of myself, to be honest," Klotz said over a pre-workout lunch in east Regina.
"Maybe I'll give it one more year in North America and if nothing happens, then I might go to Europe or somewhere. On the other hand, I'm only 24. So I am not sure what's going to happen."
Tammy Walbaum recognized an important trait that has remained a theme in her son's life.
As was common in many Saskatchewan homes in the 1990s, hockey was as much a passion as an after-school activity. And Garrett, who started to skate at age seven, had a natural athleticism. And he recognized at an early age that success was possible through hard work.
"There have been times when he's worked really hard and surprised people," says Walbaum, whose son often became more committed to projects after enjoying success.
"When he was a kid, it was impossible to get him to come home when he was out playing on the outdoor rink in Glencairn," says Walbaum, adding the skills he honed playing shinny transferred nicely to organized league play. "He would stick handle through all the other kids and the other parents would tell me he had soft hands."
Klotz called upon his determination again at 16. He saw potential in himself, improved his
skills and strength and tried out for the Regina Pat Canadians. He was cut, but later earned a spot on the roster of the 2005-06 Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, the first recognition of Klotz's size and willingness to work. After his trade to Saskatoon, where he played for two seasons with the Blades, Klotz's reputation as a bruiser who liked to lift weights was well known.
He was sometimes knocked for lagging behind his teammates in skating and puck-handling abilities, but then-Blades head coach Lorne Molleken says Klotz's dedication to self-improvement was rare among athletes his age.
"I give Garrett a lot of credit because not too many people believed in him or thought he could accomplish it. He worked endless hours in the gym to get stronger and spent the extra time on the ice to improve his hockey skills," Molleken told the StarPhoenix in 2008.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren added: "We like a lot of things about Garrett ... we think he can turn into a good player."
After seeing his future with the Flyers end, Klotz was disappointed he was never called up to the NHL like he had hoped. He dug in again. He worked harder in the gym, took up boxing and stayed longer after on ice practices. In September, he heard from the Anaheim Ducks, who signed him to a one-year deal with its farm team in Virginia. His value didn't exactly drop after scoring a hat trick the previous season as a member of the East Coast Hockey League's (ECHL) Bloomington Prairie Thunder.
Rod Flahr, a Regina fitness and strength trainer who works with hockey players, calls Klotz one of the hardest workers he's seen in 20 years.
"Garrett is my second hardest worker," said Flahr, who puts fellow Reginan and Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich at number one.
Flahr, who took Klotz on as a summer client four years ago, said Klotz's strength and level of fitness improve each year.
"He brings it every single time he comes," says Flahr, who helps Klotz improve in areas like foot speed and agility. "He is a big strong kid with power and a good work ethic. I keep getting surprised by how well he's improved."
He can't vouch for on-ice improvement, but Flahr hopes Klotz becomes an NHLer.
"A hockey player is one injury away from making it. Or you're one impressed scout away from making it," said Flahr.
"I have a soft spot for the kid."
Debates over fighting in hockey happen without much notice from Klotz, even though his willingness to punch and be punched is why he gets work from the likes of the Fort Wayne Komets or Greenville Road Warriors.
He shrugs off growing concern that fighting can lead to everything from memory loss to early dementia. But he understands the potential for damage in a full-fisted blow to the head from a fellow 250-pound combatant.
"It's scary. I know that. I have had a few bad experiences, but it's not enough to have me thinking too hard about it."
He downplays the seriousness of the infamous brain-jarring 2009 fight in which he lost consciousness, stumbled backward and knocked his head against the boards and the ice. He was back in the lineup not long after undergoing a battery of tests and brain scans that found no lingering effects from the incident. "I was out for two weeks. But I played in the first game after I was cleared to play."
Klotz believes he's benefited from the evolution of hockey culture, which used to require little of enforcers beyond the ability to drop their gloves.
"The era of the goon is over. You have to be able to play as well," says Klotz, who appears in dozens of fights in YouTube-posted videos. "I know my size is what got me here. But I've worked on my skills. My goal is to play big, play hard and don't let other players push me or my teammates around."
Like all good mothers, Tammy Walbaum would prefer that fighting wasn't her son's job.
"I'm glad he's a good hockey player but I wish he had a different role. Even when he was 18, he'd call me and say, 'It's OK mom, that's my role,' " says Walbaum, who still remembers the seizure-inducing fight. "When I got the news about that, your stomach does flip flops and you think you're going to throw up. It was very scary."
She also worries for his future if his NHL hopes are dashed.
"I don't want him to be a 30-yearold and still playing in the ECHL ... I don't want to see him wasting any more of his time."
Klotz agrees that having a backup career plan is a good idea, even though he struggles with the notion of pursuing a non-hockey life.
"I should be doing something about that. But I don't have any ambition to do that during the season. But I am going to have to start thinking about that soon," says Klotz, adding that working as a personal trainer is an option.
Until then, players like Klotz face a unique off-ice challenge. Because teammates from various locations around the world live in apartments while they wait for the season to
end or get a call from another team, there is plenty to distract them. For a 20-something kid who becomes a celebrity, saying no to temptation is difficult.
"A lot of guys like to party. But it gets the best of some of them. You have the spotlight on you and you're out having fun. But if you slip up once and they catch you, it's not good for the image," says Klotz, adding he's been guilty of enjoying too many beverages or staying out too late when he shouldn't have.
In Fort Wayne, for instance, there are a half-dozen strip clubs. Showgirls III is the best, Klotz reports. "I've messed up a few times," he says. "Nothing too big. Just getting drunk and doing stupid s**t. And then management gets wind of it. So you get a slap on the wrist and get told not to do it again."
Klotz has taken his warnings seriously because he's seen players lose opportunities.
"Some people don't learn. If it happens to you once, or twice, that's one thing. But if it happens a third time, it's 'See you later, you had your chance.' This summer, Klotz visits Flahr at Regina's Zone Fitness and is spending time at Black and Blue Boxing Club in Regina to box, a sport he took up three years ago to help him fight better and punch harder. He's also in Saskatoon where he plans to stay with former Blades netminder Garrett Zemlak and play hockey with members of Saskatoon's hockey elite, including Washington Capitals goalie Brayden Holtby and Ottawa Senators defenceman Eric Gryba. He's also trained at Saskatoon's Nelson Boxing Club.
Klotz isn't sure where he's headed in September, even though he's received interest from a team in England, an ECHL team in California and the Komets, the Fort Wayne team he played with last season. He's hopeful another NHL team might call again, just as the Ducks did last year. But he concedes it's hard to stay motivated after not getting a call to play in the big leagues.
"Philly never gave me a shot. I never played a pre-season game with them. That was disappointing," says Klotz.
"But I have been improving. And I have been given chances on the teams I've played with and I have been producing a little more. And I improve a little each year.
"That gives me more confidence as a hockey player. So that makes me hopeful that I might catch someone's eye and I can get another chance so I can take it and run with it.
"I think I deserve one. I just can't figure it out."
He also understands the irony of his frustrations when he's stopped by old pals in Regina who are envious of his hockey career that he's disappointed he hasn't been able to take further.
"In the end, I can't really complain about the fact I'm doing something I like," he says.
"It's better than digging ditches."
His stats from hockeydb:
Left Wing -- shoots L
Born -- Regina, SASK
[24 yrs. ago]
Height 6.06 -- Weight 250
Born -- Regina, SASK
[24 yrs. ago]
Height 6.06 -- Weight 250
|2005-06||Red Deer Rebels||WHL||35||2||0||2||26||-4||--||--||--||--||--|
|2010-11||Greenville Road Warriors||ECHL||3||0||0||0||0||0||--||--||--||--||--|
|2012-13||Fort Wayne Komets||ECHL||35||3||4||7||98||-13||--||--||--||--||--|
|2013-14||Ontario Reign*||ECHL||Statistics Unavailable|
|2013-14||Allen Americans||CHL||Statistics Unavailable|