Photo by Rena Laverty
Hockey for Tyler Kleven started with his dad Chris and an outdoor rink.
“I first started playing on an outdoor rink back home. My dad has a history in hockey and he really got me into the sport,” said Kleven, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. “As I got older, my dad would build a rink in our backyard.”
It should come as no surprise that hockey turned into a passion for him.
“I just loved the sport. It was fun to be around your teammates and I love the competitive nature of the game,” he said.
Kleven was also able to have his dad as his coach when he was growing up. It was something that he very much appreciated, especially as he has gotten older.
“My dad coached me from fifth grade to eighth grade,” said Kleven. “It was great to have him around, especially because he could give me tips and tricks. He really helped me learn to be a defenseman. He taught me to watch the body instead of the puck.”
There was no place that Kleven would rather be than on the blue line.
“My dad was a defenseman so I had someone that knew the game and the position,” said Kleven, whose dad played for the Waterloo Blackhawks and Northern Michigan University. “I never wanted to play forward. I only wanted to play defense so that is what I played.”
So of course, when Kleven learned he was selected for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, there was one person that he knew would share in his excitement.
“My dad thought it was amazing and was so proud of me. He had played a role in helping me get to this point and he knows everything I did to get here so it was worth it,” said Kleven.
Of course, it wasn’t easy packing up his stuff and moving to Plymouth, Michigan, to start the next part of his hockey journey. He also knew it was something that he needed to do if he was going to improve his game.
“Moving to Michigan and leaving my family and friends was tough,” said Kleven. “I had never been away from home until now. At first, it was tough but the team has really helped.”
“The practices are definitely different than what I was used to from high school. We didn’t have special teams practice in Fargo but that is really helping me with my play.”
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The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder realizes just how much the training at the NTDP has already helped him with his game. Since he is a bigger player, he knows just how important it is to develop his game and he is already seeing the results on the ice.
“I’m definitely more physical and that is helping out [my game],” he said. “I’m learning how to push guys away from the net and get the puck from them. I’m learning how to move the puck better as a D.
“I’m using my body to hit a person, not just focus on the puck but really getting to the person. I have been known to get some big hits. I did have one big one against the Russians.”
In addition, he also credits some extra time with the coaching staff in helping him improve his game.
“Watching video with Coach [Nick] Fohr really helps,” Kleven said. “It really allows you to focus on the angles instead of just running at guys. It really helps when you are in the game and you can put your trust in what you are doing.
“With Coach [Jared] Nightingale, he stays on the ice and works on different things, especially after practice. We have been working on shooting the puck and getting a quick release. You really can’t take that long to shoot so that extra work benefits me.”
My dad was a defenseman so I had someone that knew the game and the position. He had played a role in helping me get to this point and he knows everything I did to get here so it was worth it.
Kleven and his Under-17 teammates are in the middle of a five-game road trip which includes a single contest at the Chicago Steel on March 9 and a two-game stand at the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders on March 15-16. It’s a challenging stretch, but Kleven believes sticking to a simple formula will lead to success.
“We need to follow our team identity and not be individuals on the ice,” he said. “When we focus on that, we can have success. Coach [Seth] Appert really wants to do the little things for success. He wants us to come to the rink every day — be locked in, focused and ready to work hard.”
One thing will never change, and that is how much it means for him to wear the red, white and blue.
“I remember walking into the locker room and seeing the jersey hanging there for the first time and I was just speechless,” said Kleven. “It is a true honor; there are no words to describe it. There is so much respect each time that I get to put it on."
These are the proud moments Kleven can share with his dad who ignited his passion for the sport.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo by Rena Laverty