CEDAR RAPIDS – Imagine getting your big break.
You’ve toiled at lower junior levels all season, doing work and getting better. Suddenly a coach and general manager of a team in the best junior hockey league in America unexpectedly calls and brings you in to practice.
A week later, he offers you a spot on the roster. Not for next season or the season after that, but right now.
There’s one caveat. You’ve got to lose weight.
“Coach said right away that for me to be more effective, my weight had to be down,” said Kevin Shand of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. “It would make me faster … When I first got here, it was a struggle, definitely a struggle even in practice just to keep up. Now I feel like I’m right there with everybody. I’m going to keep chipping away at it.”
He already has done some significant chipping, originally weighing in at 240 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame but down to 227 this week. He has done it through extra conditioning work before and after practice and by keeping a food log.
If you want a clue as to what the RoughRiders think his optimal weight is, just look at their website, where Shand is listed at 216 pounds.
“When you saw him practice with us, you could see his hands,” said RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson. “You could see his vision and sense and ability to make a play. For me, his skating is very good for a guy his size. It’s just going to keep getting better. So he’s got tons of upside.”
Shand, 18, is a Saline, Mich., resident who began this season with the Metro Jets of the North American 3 Hockey League. He graduated to the regular NAHL, where he put up 18 points in 21 games for the Springfield Jr. Blues.
Carlson brought him in to practice for a week about a month ago and liked him enough to sign him. Anyone who is familiar with junior hockey knows how huge a jump Shand has made in one season.
He does, too.
“I would definitely say it’s a surprise to me that I’m here,” he said. “Just because I was in that NA3 at the beginning of the year. I never talked to a USHL team, and all of a sudden, I get a call to come practice. A week later I’m here on the team. It’s the way hockey should work, I feel like. When I got to the NA3, I did OK, then I started doing better and got the chance to go to the NAHL. I struggled there at first, but got to the point where I was doing well. Now this.”
Shand’s pedigree also is a plus. His father, Kevin, played 421 games in the National Hockey League with the Atlanta Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.
Dad was a defenseman, but son is a winger. He has an assist in four games thus far for the RoughRiders, who host Muskegon on Friday night.
“I’ve seen a couple of his fights on video before. Whenever we’re on car rides, he’s always got stories for me,” Kevin said. “When I was 4, he asked me if I wanted to start playing hockey. I said ‘No, dad. I want to play soccer.’ That lasted about a year, then I laced up the skates. He coached me all the way through high school. He’s a tough critic, but he’ll let me know when I play well. I always text him before game, just to let him know ‘Hey, I’m playing tonight. Do you have anything to say (for advice?’ Sometimes he’ll give me instructions, but sometimes he’ll tell me just to have fun.”
There’s no doubt he’s having fun.
“I didn’t know this opportunity would come available. I took it.,” Shand said. “I almost thought that maybe they brought me in to look at me for next year or something like that. That was my thought process. To be honest, I didn’t think I practiced that well when I came here. So when Coach told me he was going to sign me, it was a shock. I was so happy because this is the place that I want to be.”
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