KALKASKA, Michigan – It’ll be hard not to notice Jake Hardwick next season.
The Kalkaska Rhinos’ newest signing goes 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds.
And his game up front will also be noticeable as the Texas native will bring skill and grit to the USPHL.
“We are very excited about Jake joining our team,” said Rhinos coach-GM Krzysztof Oliwa. “To be honest, he reminds me of a young me back in the days, but Jake is even bigger. He is the type of player that can control the game and can play in all situations. We want to mold him into the type of player that people recognize as a dominant player that will be ready at some point to play NCAA Division I hockey. We feel Jake can be the type of player that other players want to be.”
The 18-year-old Hardwick can’t wait to get started in his new surroundings.
“I met the Kalkaska coaching staff at the HPA Combine in Fort Wayne, Ind., and they saw me play and liked what they saw, but also saw room for improvement,” Hardwick said. “I see myself as trying to be a leader on the ice, during training sessions and through the community. It will be a little strange being away from my home in Texas, away from my friends and family, but I know that with the help of my billet family that it will be a smooth transition.
“Kalkaska just seems to be the right fit, with an incredible coaching staff who want to see their players move on to the next level.”
Once the season kicks in, it’ll be full speed ahead for Hardwick.
“I'm a playmaker and grinder and I focus on the little things like where my stick is, where my feet are pointed and where the other team is at all times,” explained Hardwick. “I'm hard on the backcheck and forecheck to make plays from stealing the puck. I go hard to the net and stay there when the defense has the puck for a screen tip.
“I’m a team player and will do my best to make my teammates feel bigger when I am on the ice with them.”
So how did a kid from Texas get started playing hockey?
“I've played all my hockey growing up in Texas and I got interested in hockey at the age of three,” said Hardwick, who played last season for the Texas Warriors U18 AA team. “I can't remember if it was from watching the ‘Mighty Ducks’ movies or going to see a real Dallas Stars game for the first time.”
Like most, Hardwick has his future goals set and ready to attack.
“Short term, I want to win the USPHL Premier championship,” Hardwick said. “Long term is to be able to play Division I college hockey and then play professional hockey.”