Sitting in the stands let Shenendehowa defenseman Cam Kuhl see things from a new perspective.
He was anchored there his entire freshman season by a big, pink cast that clung to his broken right leg. From that perch in the stands, he saw his friends and teammates play through a 10-game unbeaten streak in the middle of the season, then reach another Section II championship game.
It also was from that seat above the ice that he saw just how much he loved the game of hockey.
“Just being around the rink, being around the guys and seeing them have fun . . . even to get back-skated because they did something wrong — I would rather get skated for an hour than not be able to play,” Kuhl said. “It’s heartbreaking not to be able to play, just sitting on the side watching everyone go have fun.”
That time away may have been a blessing in disguise, though, as a healthy Kuhl returned to his training with increased intensity. He had started hitting the weights when he made the Shenendehowa varsity team as an eighth-grader, but after experiencing the stagnant weakness that comes from sitting around with a broken leg, his strength and conditioning regimen was approached with a new fervor.
Now, he’s even attracted the attention of a few Canadian major junior A teams.
It’s a progression that shouldn’t be too surprising for the son of a youth hockey coach, Ron Kuhl, who also owns The Hockey Hut in Clifton Park, but even Ron wasn’t sure just how much the game meant to Cam until seeing him sit through last season and then dive back into his training.
“When he missed the entire winter season,” Ron Kuhl said, “I think he realized maybe three or four months into being laid up, ‘Holy smokes, I really do love it, and I miss it.’ I think when he recognized he really missed it while being injured, I think that’s when he really turned a corner.”
Around that corner, Pete Bangs was waiting.
Bangs leases space at The Hockey Hut to run SWEAT Fitness and Performance, providing strength and conditioning training.
“He keeps me in shape and keeps me strong and ready for whatever is going to be thrown at me — bigger kids, older kids, stronger kids,” Cam Kuhl said.
As a hockey coach, Ron Kuhl said he tells parents of young skaters it’s best to get the kids involved early, but just let them go have fun. Let them learn to love the sport early, because without that love, they will tire of it once they hit high school.
“I’m very grateful for the way he did it,” Cam Kuhl said. “He never pressured me. He’s said this to me multiple times, ‘If you ever lose the love for the game and want to do something different, you can let me know and I’m not going to be heartbroken. It’s your life, you can do what you want with it, and I’m going to carry on with what I do, instructing hockey.’ That’s always put me at ease.”
Kuhl also plays for the Adirondack Junior Wings of the USPHL, so if he was going to tire of the sport, playing for two teams should have done the trick by now.
Instead, when he got to eighth grade and started playing for a varsity team that offers few spots to freshmen, let alone even younger players, he saw another challenge he wanted to overcome.
In youth hockey, he was only ever playing against kids his age or one year older. As an eighth-grade varsity player, he was up against players sometimes four years older.
So he worked at getting stronger. Still, he accepted that he was sometimes going to get overpowered. That understanding has helped him perform under pressure.
“I had the mindset that it’s going to happen,” he said. “You’re going to get pushed off pucks because you’re not as strong. I wasn’t going in expecting I was going to be the best player out there. I went in understanding I had to earn my spot on the team and playing time.”
“What really sets him apart from everybody else on the team that year was his ability to be cool under pressure with the puck,” said Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha. “Without a doubt. He doesn’t panic. He’s got ice in his veins. Any time he’s being pressured by an opposing player, he’s very cool-headed and level-headed about it. He manages to get himself out of a jam without breaking a sweat. It’s like that today, and that was evident when he was a younger player, as well.”
Some of his level-headedness has to come from other players who work out at The Hockey Hut.
In the offseason, professional players like Brian and Matt Lashoff, Pete MacArthur and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond work out at the facility. Seeing how they work out and how they carry themselves has had an impact on the young blueliner.
“Seeing those guys in the weight room and on the ice, I see how hard they work to be there and stay there,” Cam said. “They’ve told me the ups and downs of what happens. They helped me through the injury, saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to heal, and you have to come back stronger.’ ”
Cam Kuhl is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and still growing. Unlike some teenage players, he avoided the possible awkward phase of growth when a boy can be more lanky and less coordinated, and has continued to be a strong skater.
He’s good on his feet, strong for his size, and his puck-handling, passing and vision are assets. Ron said his son also revels in the unsung work of blocking pucks and working in the corners.
Another attribute de la Rocha enjoys seeing from his young defenseman is his ability to get some power behind a shot without a big back-swing.
“He’s got one heck of a snap-shot,” de la Rocha said. “He’s not one of those kids who’s going to telegraph his shot with a big wind-up from the blue line. A lot of times, it’s a quick snapper. You don’t know it’s coming until it’s right on top of you. And when it is, it’s got the velocity of a slapshot. That’s impressive.”
Impressive, but don’t say that to Cam. He’s not hearing it. Not over the sound of that stack of weights coming back down, or the sound of the occasional stray puck slamming into the boards or glass, or the sound of that Shen home crowd.
He’s soaking it all in during what could be his last high school season before joining a junior roster, because he knows now that a healthy tomorrow is never guaranteed.
“Just having that sense of, anything can happen at any moment, I’ve just been trying to enjoy the game and enjoy it as much as I can,” Cam Kuhl said. “Whether it be another broken leg or broken bone, I could get hit the wrong way and something could happen to me, so I just want to enjoy the game as much as I can for as long as I can. Coming from the broken leg, I’ve just learned that I have to enjoy every moment, because I could not be doing it.”