Excusez-moi, où est la patinoire?
Clifton Park’s Cam Kuhl may not know this yet, but that is French for “Excuse me, where is the ice rink?”
He may not have to learn that exact phrase, but the former Shenendehowa defenseman will have to practice his French in the coming days. He signed with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Aug. 1 and began training camp on Tuesday.
“My French is poor, and I’m going to have to work on that,” Kuhl said. “Hopefully, I can pick it up when I’m up there. I’m going to work on it a little bit here, but I’m going to try to pick most of it up from some teammates when I’m up there.”
The Remparts brought in Kuhl — who would have been a junior this fall at Shenendehowa — and other rookies on Sunday and Monday to get their legs under them and let them acclimate to their new surroundings.
Those surroundings, by the way, will also be the host site for the 2015 Memorial Cup. As host team, the Remparts have an automatic berth into the Memorial Cup tournament, so if Kuhl can earn a spot in the first six among the Remparts’ defensemen, he will be on the ice competing for the top Canadian juniors trophy.
Junior hockey has been the stepping stone to the professional ranks. The Remparts have seen 34 of their players selected in the past 17 NHL drafts.
Kuhl first caught the eye of the Remparts in October, after his advisor, Chad Levitt, spoke with the Remparts about the then-sophomore at Shenendehowa. The Remparts sent their top two scouts on a six-hour drive to watch on Kuhl in a game, and that visit left an impression on the young defenseman.
“That was a huge boost for me,” he said. “I was working hard, but that just made me work even harder. I’ve been in the gym, on the ice, really trying to focus in on what type of player I want to be and how I want to go up there. It refocuses you, is what it really does.”
Before the Remparts could sign him, though, Kuhl had to pass through the Ontario Hockey League draft without being selected, as the OHL gets first crack at players from New York.
The only OHL team he had to worry about was the Ottawa 67s, who had him on their watch list. Had they had him on their draft list, he would have been more nervous.
Kuhl said he feels he’s become a better player since that visit, and he’s confident he can earn ice time with Quebec. He has been working with Pete Bangs of SWEAT Fitness at The Hockey Hut to put on some more muscle, while also working through quickness and agility drills.
Kuhl has identified those aspects of his game he wants to highlight for the coaches during camp and those aspects he wants to improve upon.
“I’m a quiet, stay-at-home defenseman,” he said. “I’ll be great in my defensive zone, and I’ll lock down everybody, lock down my man, get into the corners and grind it out.
“The thing I have to work on in camp, which I do but don’t do that much, is I need to get up in the rush, and I need to be a little more active in the offensive zone.”
One thing he’ll be able to do in Canadian juniors — that he’ll be expected to do, at times — is fight. It’s a big no-no in the high school and college game in the United States, but the Canadian junior leagues have not eliminated it from the game.
Kuhl said he has always enjoyed the fighting in hockey, even though he has never been in a hockey fight. He is ready if one of the Canadian players wants to test out the young American, but he won’t just go looking for a fight.
“I don’t think I’m going to go up there looking for a big fight in any game,” Kuhl said. “Me and my dad have talked about it, and we’re in agreement — if I throw a big body check and the other guy’s not too happy about it, if he comes after me, I’m not going to run away from it. If he asks me, I’ll oblige him and I’ll drop the gloves. But I’m not going to go out and look for one.”
He said he’s looking forward to meeting his new teammates and getting to know them, but he’s especially looking forward to playing with left wings Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair — who have been drafted in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers, respectively — and to playing in front of goalie Callum Booth, whom he called “arguably one of the best goalies in the world at his age level.”
He said some of the best advice he’s gotten about living and playing in Canada came from East Greenbush native Brian Lashoff.
“I’ve kind of relied pretty heavily on Brian Lashoff, because when he played in
juniors, he played in the OHL [Ontario Hockey League], so it’s pretty much the same,” Kuhl said. “It’s a different league, but it’s the same type of deal. The thing he told me was, ‘Go up there, work as hard as you can, keep your nose clean and don’t think you’re anything you’re not. Just do what you do.’ ”