KALKASKA, Michigan – When you consider that the Kalkaska Rhinos Premier Junior Hockey Team has the top-flight facility in Michigan, coupled with a coach that has played at the highest professional level, it’s an easy decision to want to play for this USPHL organization. And the Rhinos happen to be looking for a few more key players and a goalie to round out their roster.
The Kalkaska Kaliseum Recreation Complex offers year-round training, on and off the ice, in addition to two pools, a new gym, a dedicated players lounge and other amenities.
On the ice, team owner and General Manager Krzysztof Oliwa has coached the Rhinos since the program's inception four years ago.
Oliwa, who raised Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2000 with the New Jersey Devils has racked up more than 400 games at the NHL level with New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Calgary, Columbus, Boston and NY Rangers. His expertise has helped over a dozen players from the Rhinos move on to the college level.
The most recent advancement, goaltender Ryan Cote, will play NCAA Division III hockey during the 2017-18 season for New England College.
Cote said playing in Kalkaska gave him the exposure needed to have the chance to play college hockey.
“I want to take hockey as far as I possibly can. Like Coach Oliwa says, ‘Dream big and never give up,’” said Cote. “I would also like to thank the entire Kalkaska Rhinos organization and fan base. They were all great and I would highly recommend the experience of playing junior hockey in Kalkaska.”
Another Rhinos graduate, captain Keegan Pruden, noted how his time with the program significantly improved his game and readied him for college hockey.
Pruden is off to Portage College this fall in his home province of Alberta.
“It was awesome,” Pruden said of his time in Rhinos blue. “A lot of people think that because of the role ‘Oli’ played in the NHL, he would teach a very strong, physical game full of grinders and fighters. But he is completely the opposite, teaching skilled and well-rounded strategy while of course maintaining some physicality. His off ice training may be the best, as well as the most challenging in all of junior hockey.
“The Kalkaska community was great. It seemed a bit quiet at first, which is ideal for training. But as time went on and we got out and around more, we became more comfortable and started to feel like part of Kalkaska. The fans were amazing, very welcoming and supportive.
The youth Rhinos teams were great. All the community events we got to take part in, the team meals, the restaurants, the arena staff, and of course our coaching staff was as great as can be. Cannot complain about anything. My game improved a lot as both an individual and as a team player. I excelled with my individual skills. My leg strength and my confidence with the puck improved most.”
Kalkaska’s training regimen – the OliwaShredZone – pushes players to their limits, and then keeps pushing.
But after a serious workout, players know the hard work will pay off.
“I am looking forward to the intensity that Coach Oliwa brings to the team,” said incoming Kalkaska rookie Corey Kops. “I have had many coaches over the years, but Coach Oliwa has a unique ability to motivate his players. I am looking forward to the training, practices and games. I am confident that I will continue to mature as a player.”
“One of the reasons I chose Kalkaska was because of Keegan Pruden, and the program that Coach Oliwa has developed is incredible,” said another rookie, Brayden MacDonald. “The training is awesome and I can't wait to be down there, training hard with the team. I hope to get stronger and faster this year, and become a better leader on and off the ice. I believe Kalkaska can make me the player I want to be."
The Rhinos are also becoming an increasingly international team, attracting players from across the United States, Japan, Russia and Canada.
And Kalkaska’s captain, Tomasz Skokan, returns from Poland for his third season with the Rhinos.
“Kalkaska is a brilliant place to develop my hockey skills and improve overall performance. And of course, we cannot forget about our fantastic fans and atmosphere around the organization,” Skokan said.
“It was great last season when we had eight Aboriginals on the team,” said veteran Leighton Desjarlais, a native of Kikono, Alberta. “We all are really close now. I just want to show younger kids they have the opportunity to get out and do something so they don't have to be stuck in their hometown their entire lives.”
In addition, the players that know what the Rhinos program is all about can’t wait to get started.
“It's hard to find people that share the same mindset and vision, and I knew that playing for Coach Krzysztof Oliwa was the right place to go to accomplish my goals,” said rookie Jonny Yanovsky, a Michigan native. “I chose Kalkaska because I know Coach will push me to be an even better version of myself as a hockey player. I'm confident I'm going to produce at a high level, and achieve my goal of playing Division I hockey.
“My goal for the team is to continue to promote the Rhinos stellar reputation, to entice more hockey players to come to experience Coach Oliwa's program. It's the best, and we can accomplish that goal by building a championship team.”
For more information about Kalkaska Rhinos, please contact Meredith at meredith@kalkaskarhinos,com