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Garrett Klotz: The Story So Far

Credit: re-write of Andrew Matte’s original article, “Hockey star's NHL dream remains” for The Starphoenix, Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

For Genting Casino Coventry Blaze’s most recent signing Garrett Klotz, ice hockey has been a constant driver in his life.

"When he was a kid, it was impossible to get him to come home when he was out playing on the outdoor rink in Glencairn,” said Mother Tammy Walbaum.  

Born in Saskatoon, Canada, Garrett started skating at the age of seven, showing a natural athleticism and talent for the game. "He would stick handle through all the other kids and the other parents would tell me he had soft hands,” continued Walbaum.

At 16, the young Klotz tried out for the Regina Pat Canadians, where he would experience his first disappointment failing to make the final cut. Not to be deterred, he later earned a spot on the roster of the 2005/06 Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, where Klotz's size and willingness to work were quickly recognised.

Traded later to the Saskatoon Blades, Klotz's reputation as a bruiser who liked to lift weights soon became well known.

Picked by the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers in 2007, the surprise Saturday morning call was hockey’s version of a lottery win.

"I give Garrett a lot of credit because not too many people believed in him or thought he could accomplish it,” said then Head Coach of the Blades Lorne Molleken, who later coached the Chicago Blackhawks. “He worked endless hours in the gym to get stronger and spent the extra time on the ice to improve his hockey skills.”

Assistant Coach, Dave Struch (now GM and assistant coach of the WHL’s Regina Pats) was equal in his praise for the player who fought 31 times for his team in two seasons.

"I'm a big fan of his,” Struch said. "I always stayed out after practice and Garrett was always first or second in line when we were doing something extra. He really deserves this. As far as what he did for us this year, every night there was always somebody who didn't want to fight him - all the credit to him."

The summer of 2008, following two years with the Blades, Klotz was given a six figure signing bonus and an invitation to Pennsylvania to play on the AHL team that groomed players for the storied Broad Street Bullies.

"To think that three or four years ago, I was playing midget AA hockey in Regina (with the Hawks)," Klotz said. "I would have never expected this in my wildest dreams. It's very thrilling." (The Flyers) have always been known as a gritty team. I'm going to fit right into the system."

Paul Holmgren, Flyers General Manager commented, "We like a lot of things about Garrett. He's a big kid that can skate. We think he can turn into a good player.”

The dream though turned into a nightmare for Klotz as whilst playing in his first season for the American Hockey League's (AHL) Philadelphia Phantoms he lost consciousness after possibly knocking his head against the boards following a fight with former NHLer and Belfast Giants enforcer, Kevin Westgarth.

 

 

A number of tests and brain scans revealed no lingering effects and the determined Canadian, who is keen to downplay the incident soon returned to the line-up.

"I was out for two weeks. But I played in the first game after I was cleared to play."

With almost 100 career fights to his name, Klotz learnt to understand his role at a relatively early age and has come to accept the hazards of the trade.

"It's scary. I know that. I have had a few bad experiences, but it's not enough to have me thinking too hard about it."

Like all good mothers, Tammy Walbaum would prefer that fighting wasn't her son's job. "I'm glad he's a good hockey player but I wish he had a different role. Even when he was 18, he'd call me and say, 'It's OK mom, that's my role.”

After seeing his future with the Flyers end in 2012, Klotz was disappointed not to be called up to the NHL as he had hoped. “I expected to be in the NHL. Philly never gave me a shot which was disappointing. I had expected more of myself, to be honest. Maybe I'll give it one more year in North America and if nothing happens, then I might go to Europe or somewhere. On the other hand, I'm only 24. So I am not sure what's going to happen."

Driven by disappointment, he worked harder in the gym, took up boxing and stayed longer after on ice practices. In September 12, he was to be rewarded receiving a call from the Anaheim Ducks organisation who were to sign him to a one-year deal with its farm team in Virginia.

A year spent between the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals and Fort Wayne Comets of the ECHL, Klotz’s NHL dream faded further. “I have been improving. And I have been given chances on the teams I've played with and I have been producing a little more. And I improve a little each year. That gives me more confidence as a hockey player. So that makes me hopeful that I might catch someone's eye and I can get another chance so I can take it and run with it. I think I deserve one. I just can't figure it out."

2013/14 wasn’t to be with an NHL organisation but it would be a highlight season for Klotz, playing 55 times with 14 points and a career high 257 PIMS (19 fights) to help Allen Americans become only the third CHL team to win back-to-back Ray Miron President's Cup Championships.

With his championship ring on, Koltz next signed a one-year contract with inaugural club, the Indy Fuel of the ECHL in July 2014 where he was selected as an alternate captain for the 2014/15 season.

Later moving to Wichita and then Elmira for last season, now at 27 years-old, Klotz wants something new, much to the pleasure of his Mother.

"I don't want him to be a 30 year-old and still playing in the ECHL ... I don't want to see him wasting any more of his time,” said Tammy Walbaum.

Although the NHL dream is likely over, not forgetting Bobby Robins’ miraculous rise from the UK to the Boston Bruins’ opening day NHL roster, Klotz admits overall the game has been pretty good to him.

"In the end, I can't really complain about the fact I'm doing something I like - It's better than digging ditches."

Klotz who will as ever be working hard in preparation for his first season in Europe has been a regular visit to Regina’s Zone Fitness and spends time at Black and Blue Boxing Club in Regina to box, a sport he took up a number of years ago to help him fight better and punch harder.

Rod Flahr, a Regina fitness and strength trainer who works with hockey players, calls Klotz one of the hardest workers he's seen in 20 years.

"Garrett is my second hardest worker," said Flahr, who puts fellow Reginan and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Brooks Laich at number one.

Flahr, who admits to having a soft spot for Klotz says he admires the Candian’s commitment to improving his strength and level of fitness each year.

"He brings it every single time he comes," says Flahr, who helps Klotz improve in areas like foot speed and agility. "He is a big strong kid with power and a good work ethic. I keep getting surprised by how well he's improved."

A good friend of former Belfast and Braehead goalie Garrett Zemlak, Klotz believes he's benefited from the evolution of hockey culture, which used to require little of enforcers beyond the ability to drop their gloves.

"The era of the goon is over. You have to be able to play as well. I know my size is what got me to where I am. But I've worked on my skills. My goal is to play big, play hard and don't let other players push me or my teammates around."