By Justin Skelnik | Photos by Ross Dettman
Over the past six years, Chicago Wolves defenseman Kevin Connauton has called six different cities home.
He has played for six different teams in four leagues since beginning his attempt to become a professional hockey player in 2006. Two years of junior-A hockey with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders and the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League led him to Kalamazoo, Mich., and a spot on Western Michigan University’s hockey team. Connauton figured he would spend a full four years in Kalamazoo, playing hockey and getting his degree, but after his freshman year, he was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the third round of the 2009 National Hockey League entry draft and shortly thereafter, he packed his bags and was off to another destination.
“I went to college initially because I didn’t have much interest from the pro level coming out of junior-A,” Connauton said. “I thought it was the safest route for me to continue to play hockey and get an education so I could have that safety net to fall back on if hockey didn’t pan out.
“After I was drafted, things changed. I became a prospect of an NHL team. Vancouver felt that to better my development as a player, it would be a smart move to leave school and play major junior with the Vancouver Giants. Looking back, it was a pretty risky move, but I couldn’t be happier that I did it.”
Waiting for him in Vancouver was a completely different lifestyle than he was accustomed to on campus in Kalamazoo. He went from being one of the younger guys at Western Michigan to one of the oldest players at 19 on the Giants. He had to adapt to living with a host family and he no longer had school responsibilities.
“Being in Vancouver was a big difference from Kalamazoo,” the now 21-year-old Connauton said. “College is a little different with games only on the weekends, having to balance schoolwork, playing with older guys and a shorter season. It is a completely different game. With the Giants I was playing a lot more games and experiencing a tougher travel schedule. It took some time to get used to, but I felt I adapted to it really well.”
Despite all the changes off the ice Connauton had to endure in Vancouver, they didn’t seem to bother him on the ice. He paced Western Hockey League defensemen with 72 points (24G, 48A) in 2009-10. His 24 goals and 72 points were the most by a Giants rear guard in the club’s history. After his record-setting season, he decided to turn pro and headed east to Winnipeg where a spot on the Manitoba Moose’s blueline awaited.
Connauton’s rookie season in Manitoba had its share of positives and negatives, but the Edmonton, Alberta, native took everything in stride, trying to maximize his experience as a rookie.
“I was pretty raw last year as a rookie,” Connauton said. “I had to learn a lot of things and adapt to the professional game. All of the ups and downs I faced last year in Manitoba helped me in the long run. I know I am stronger because of it.”
Stronger may be an understatement. Connauton has spent the first half of the 2011-12 season on an offensive tear. As of Jan. 1, he paced all American Hockey League defensemen with nine goals and ranked in the top 15 of league blueliners with 18
points while appearing in all 32 of the Wolves games. His nine goals are just two shy of matching his total of 11 in 73 contests with Manitoba last year, while his 18 points are five shy of tying his point total of 23.
Besides Connauton looking good on the ice this season, he also likes to look good off of it.
“I never became interested in looking sharp growing up, but over the last couple years I have definitely been watching how I dress,” Connauton said. “Ever since I signed my pro contract, I started being at NHL camps and I would see the older guys always dressed nice and looking like professionals. That is something I found myself wanting to do. As a player, I am always representing my team so I want to look nice and be presentable. I am a professional athlete, so in a sense I have to act and dress like one.”
Connauton isn’t shy about admitting who he thinks is the best-dressed as well as the worst-dressed player on the Wolves roster.
“I think I am a sharply dressed guy,” Connauton said with confidence. “I like to dress well. I have that look-good, feel-good, play-good mentality. I don’t want to self-proclaim myself as the best-dressed, but I think I am up there.”
As for the player who needs help in the style department, Connauton didn’t hold back in naming the player whose style falls on his worst dressed list.
“Eddie Lack for sure,” Connauton said with a smile. “I am not sure if his look is considered sharp over in Sweden, but in North America it is pretty below-average. Eddie has a lot of sweaters going everywhere. He is always wearing a different scarf. People have to see him to really understand.”
When asked who else needs a style upgrade or to honor others with his style stamp of approval, Connauton couldn’t come up with other specific examples. “I don’t really notice other players’ style like that,” he said. “I carpool with Eddie every day, so I notice him a lot. I am not one to accuse others of not dressing well. I just try to make sure I look decent when I walk out the door in the morning.”
Looking decent isn’t a difficult task for the young blueliner. He is a big fan of three simple colors: gray, black, and white. He doesn’t venture too far from those three colors. His typical non-gameday wardrobe, as the team is required to wear a suit to and from games, is jeans and a nice t-shirt, maybe a sweater if the weather requires it. He does, however, have one weakness. A weakness that is often found among hockey players and women everywhere: shoes.
“I have a lot of shoes,” Connauton laughed. “I only have a few pairs of dress shoes since they can go with more than one suit, but I have a ton of casual and gym shoes.”
Connauton’s confidence on the ice and in the dressing room is a trait that he thinks serves him well on his path that has just started. Despite all the stress and challenges that came with playing in six cities in six years, he likes to draw out the positives that have come with all the mileage.
“I have been bouncing around for six years and some people may have had a harder time with it than me,” Connauton said. “Despite just going from one league to another, I look at it as just an upward progression. You have to take the positives out of everything. I realize I have been making steps forward with all this movement.
“I have really enjoyed the path I have taken. I have met a lot of great people and experienced a lot. I am happy with the way things have turned out.”