The road to playing professional hockey is often not an easy one. But it is one that almost any young player who loves the game would take without question. For the typical Canadian born player, it involves moving away from home to play in one of the junior leagues for a start. If that player is lucky, he gets drafted and goes onto the NHL. However, more often, the player will spend four years playing junior hockey followed by minor league professional hockey if he’s lucky enough to continue his career and get paid to do so.
Rob Klinkhammer has found his latest shot at success with the Phoenix Coyotes organization after having bounced around with a number of teams so far in his career. The 26 year old from Lethbridge, Alberta was able to start his junior career at home. He played his first two and a half seasons of junior hockey in the Western Hockey League with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The WHL is known as the toughest of the three major junior leagues in Canada and Klinkhammer definitely thinks that added something to his game. Although, the league is not as tough as he remembers it anymore.
“When I first came into the league, there were line brawls every night. There were some bench brawls,” Klinkhammer remembers. “It definitely helped shaped the way I play.”
After spending his first two and a half seasons of junior hockey with his hometown team in Lethbridge, Klinkhammer finished his third junior season in Seattle with the Thunderbirds. For his fourth, and final, season, Klinkhammer spent one game with Seattle before splitting the remainder of the season between the Portland Winter Hawks and the Brandon Wheat Kings. It was a lot of moving around, but Klinkhammer still recorded 33 goals, 40 assists, and 108 minutes in penalties during that final junior season.
“I’m not the most overly skilled guy but I can get things done. I’m a good skater,” Klinkhammer said, despite the incredible season. “I like to play hard and play smart. I’m an energy guy.”
Klinkhammer unfortunately went undrafted. Despite not having put up the best numbers through his first three seasons of juniors, his last season really put him on the radar. That first season after junior, he played in the AHL for the Norfolk Admirals. Although the Admirals missed the playoffs by a mile, it was not all a loss. It gained him notice by the Blackhawks and he would spend the next three full seasons and part of a fourth in that organization. During the 2010-2011 season, Klinkhammer earned his first chance to play in an NHL game. It was something he will never forget.
“It’s something you work for your whole life so it’s almost validating for all your hard work. It’s realizing your dream,” Klinkhammer said. “You don’t really play the game you’re used to because you’re so nervous but you just try not to make mistakes.”
After playing 18 games with the Blackhawks AHL affiliate to start the 2011-2012 season, Klinkhammer was traded to the Ottawa Senators. Although he initially reported to the AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, Klinkhammer earned another shot in the NHL. During the 2011-2012 season, he dressed for 15 NHL games. It was an opportunity he had always hoped he would get and he tried to make the most of it. It can be hard to be traded like he was mid-season, but Klinkhammer found the best in the situation.
“It was a huge blessing to get a chance with a new team and I just ran with it. I got into a handful of games up with Ottawa,” Klinkhammer said. “It was huge for my confidence. I knew I could play in the NHL, I just had to show another team.”
During the offseason, Klinkhammer changed teams yet again and signed with the Phoenix Coyotes and earned that chance to prove himself to another team. With the NHL lockout to start the season, Klinkhammer reported to the Portland Pirates in the AHL. He focused on working on his skills and recorded his first professional hat trick in a game at the beginning of the season. When the NHL season started back up, Klinkhammer received a call up but was unable to get into a game. He was briefly reassigned to Portland for three days before getting called up again. Currently on the Phoenix roster, Klinkhammer has skated in 5 games and registered his first and second NHL goals. It does not appear that he will be headed back to the AHL at the moment. His constant positive outlook and his determination to work his hardest are definite factors in his current success.