From Ditch-Digger to Olympic Hockey, Canada's Rob Klinkhammer Savors the Journey

"I truly believe that kind of made me into the player and the man I am today — just good hard-working effort, a pretty honest guy"

Rob Klinkhammer hasn't forgotten his summer job back in junior hockey. Digging ditches will stick with you.

His stepmother got him the gas company job in Alberta and he recalls making "18, 19 bucks an hour" during grueling, 10-hour days.

"I thought I was a millionaire," he said. "I was digging down to gas lines so the welder could get in there and change out gas lines. So it was a lot of hard work and it motivated me to work harder in hockey because I didn't want to do that kind of job for a living if I didn't have to."

The 31-year-old Klinkhammer is still doing hard work, but he's doing it for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics. Klinkhammer and his teammates have reached the quarterfinals — and that's a long way from the fields of Alberta.

"It's kind of funny where you come from," Klinkhammer said with a laugh. "But I truly believe that kind of made me into the player and the man I am today — just good hard-working effort, a pretty honest guy. I owe a lot to that."

The 6-2, 216-pound Klinkhammer is averaging almost 14 minutes a game at the Olympics, playing in an energy role for Canada that's similar to the one he had in the NHL. He brings a physical presence to the ice, playing on a line with Eric O'Dell and Maxim Lapierre. Just ask Swiss captain Raphael Diaz, thumped by Klinkhammer in the first period of Canada's 5-1 win last week.

"I'd like to get a hit like that every shift if I could," Klinkhammer told the Canadian Press. "That's our job to be physical. That's our line. We're not going to lead the team in scoring but we are going to lead the team in hits. That's what we're there to do."

With the NHL sitting out these Olympics, Klinkhammer and many other unheralded teammates are carrying the load and cherishing every minute.

"People ask me if this was ever a dream. Like no, it was never a dream," he said. "I never thought this would be a possibility, playing in the Olympics for Canada. I'm not going to go take Sidney Crosby's spot. So it's just an unbelievable experience. I'm taking every minute in and I'm so thankful to be here."

Undrafted after a junior career, Klinkhammer went on to score 22 goals and add 21 assists in 193 NHL games with Chicago, Ottawa, Phoenix/Arizona, Pittsburgh and Edmonton. He's spent time in the AHL and is now in his third season in the KHL, playing for Kazan.

Life is good there, he says. The team is well-run with plenty of support and the city of Kazan is beautiful. The players and their families live together in a gated complex.

Some 5,000 miles away, Lethbridge, Alberta, has not forgotten him. His hometown paper, the Herald, has followed his progress closely.

And he has an army of local support here.

"I've got my wife and two boys, my father, stepmother, mother and father-in-law and my mom," he said. "I've got a whole crew over here."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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