Photo: Dinur Blum

Photo: Dinur Blum

Rob Kwiet began the season with the Stockton Thunder, appearing in one game, before a trade sent him to the Greenville Road Warriors where he played 13 games.  Another trade and he found himself back on the west coast, this time to play for the San Francisco Bulls and head coach Pat Curcio. It is a reunion of sorts for Kwiet, the connection between player and coach spanning back into his early hockey career.

Rob grew up in Scarborough, east of Toronto and started skating at the same time he learned to walk. It wasn’t long before he started in league hockey at the age of four. His family was and still is a huge support to him in his hockey career.

Both my grandfathers were always there for me, one played and the other was the chauffeur. He would drive me to and from practice at 6 in the morning and after practice he was always there for me. My mom and dad supported me and they still do, traveling all over North America to watch me play.”

Photo: Dinur Blum

Photo: Dinur Blum

An obligatory Leafs fan, Kwiet grew up watching the great Mats Sundin and wore the number 13 throughout his early hockey career. He started out as a left winger, but then switched to defence when he played minor midgets with the Wexford Raiders. The connection to the San Francisco Bulls began with Wexford as he played with Kyle Paige, now Assistant Coach for the Bulls and his Coach then as now was none other than Pat Curcio.

Kwiet found he liked playing defence, it seemed like a fit and so he stuck with it but he held on to his winger roots, seeing himself as an offensive puck-moving defenceman:

 “I like to make the plays.  As a left winger growing up, I have offense in my mind.  I like to play the power play, everybody does but I like to make that my specialty and quarterback the play.”

Kwiet is known for his power play finesse. His time with the Reading Royals notched him a team high 15 power play points for the 2010-2011 season and the Stockton Thunder brought him in to bolster their blueline during the 2011-12 playoff push. This season he is the top defenceman for the Bulls and ranks 3rd in the ECHL in all points for defencemen. His on-ice awareness and ability to see what happens before it unfolds is key:

“I’m more of a passer than a shooter, but obviously I will shoot when I have the opportunity.  I think I have the ability to be able to see the lanes, and an understanding of how the power play is supposed to work.  I also think that being able to watch video on other teams and be able to dissect what they will do and then reading what they will do on the ice, that’s something that I have always been good at, I’d like to think that is one of my strengths.”

You can see it in his methodical approach on the blue line. He is constantly scanning, and timing is everything between a shot on the point and a breakaway opportunity for the other team. He dedicates much of his summers to improving his skills as a puck handler and working on the little details that make him that much more comfortable firing under pressure. “I like to rent the ice and go out by myself and just work on little things that you don’t normally get to do on a normal practice day when its all flow and drills.” Even during warm-ups before a game, you can see that he likes that time nearly alone out there on the ice, making some one timers and lagging behind until he is last to leave.

Kwiet refined his skills in the AHL both with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Providence Bruins before coming to San Francisco. He feels that playing at that higher level has allowed him to feel comfortable at the ECHL level.

“Everything is a learning experience, playing at that level just helps you learn how to become a professional, in every aspect of the game both on and off the ice.  You just try to take what you’ve learned and bring it to where you are and use that everyday experience of the game in your play.”

Rob is happy to have settled into the San Francisco Bulls after playing for two different teams to start the 2012-2013 season. He says that it is special to be part of a team’s inaugural year, especially in a city like San Francisco. The team and the staff are very close and despite all the financial challenges that a new team faces, the organization takes care of its players.

“They treat us well and get us everything we need. Obviously to be in a big city and be treated like a big city team is exciting. Being on the East coast you don’t get that option, the teams are in mostly smaller cities, which has its benefits too but it’s real neat to be in such a unique city like San Francisco. On days off you get out to see the sights and every day see something new.  It’s been a real pleasure playing out here and to have that history with the coaching staff.”

When he first came to San Francisco, besides the Coaching team of Curcio and Paige, Kwiet knew very few of his teammates, which is pretty rare in the leagues. He had played with the Bulls’ Captain Scott Langdon when they both wore Reading Royals sweaters in the 2009-2010 season. With all the roster moves the Bulls have made over the course of the season, Kwiet is one of a few who has been part of the core makeup of the team.  He feels that the team is finally taking shape and that the pieces are in play to make a decent playoff run.

“I think this is the best team we’ve had all year. We’ve made many moves throughout the season which has made it tough as far as chemistry, with new guys coming in to the lineup almost every weekend, but now we’re set in stone. This is the strongest team we’ve had and with a couple weeks before the playoffs start, well hopefully we get on a roll and make something special happen. It’s a very talented team in all aspects.  Its got size, speed skill, physicality, goaltending everything we need, so if we can string some wins together, get on a streak, we can make some noise going into the playoffs.”

Kwiet brings his veteran playoff experience with him to the San Francisco Bulls. He has a  08-09 Memorial Cup win with the Windsor Spitfires, playoff runs with the Reading Royals and last years’ Kelly Cup playoffs with the Bulls’ closest rivals the Stockton Thunder. For the Bulls to succeed, Kwiet feels that it is important for the team to remember to keep it simple and stick to the basics.

“It’s a whole new season, and it doesn’t matter if you are first or last because once you are in the playoffs everybody’s there and it’s all about coming together at the right time and  playing simple, doing the little things that sometimes you might not do throughout the season. It’s a long year and sometimes during the season you try to do new things, new plays, new units, but once the playoffs come you have to just stick with what’s working, play simple and get the job done that night.”

Rob’s most important piece of advice in the playoffs is to not let frustration or a bad game carry over into the next night of the series.

“If you don’t win the biggest thing is to come back the next night, to forget about the night before, its only one game. It’s a best of seven series and one game won’t make or break you.”

Kwiet’s parents still haven’t made it out to San Francisco yet as it’s pretty far west, but with San Francisco clinching the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, they may still have time to catch their son play in a Bulls Sweater for the Kelly Cup.

A West Coast girl, born and raised in the Bay Area in the most non-traditional Hockey Market you could imagine for a long time... When the Sharks came to town it changed the Bay Area hockey landscape forever. Her first love will always be the Red Wings but she has embraced the Sharks since their debut in 1991. She has a passion for minor league grind-it-out-in the-corners hockey. Her heart broke when the ECHL Bulls folded , but luckily the Stockton Thunder are still close enough for her to get her gritty-hockey fix. Besides watching hockey, she is an American Tribal Style belly-dancer and trolls the blue-line, playing defence in a local rec hockey league... A somehow strange but balanced juxtaposition.

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