For some kids, becoming a goaltender is usually because they love the goalie masks and pads. However, for Kaidan Mbereko, his love of playing between the pipes came with the idea that he could make those acrobatic saves that are shown on highlight reels.
“I really enjoyed my time back there; you get to make some desperation saves and of course, slide around,” he said. “It was all about the crazy saves for me at first. That is the interesting part on why I wanted to play goalie. You can really change the game.”
For the Aspen, Colorado, native, playing hockey wasn’t originally in his plans. He actually tried it once and quit to pursue other opportunities, but for some reason, hockey just kept calling his name.
“I started skating when I was 6 years old after my brother [Zak] and one of his friends and his family brought me to the Aspen Community Hockey Night,” said Mbereko. “I started with a learn-to-skate program as a player and enjoyed it. I stopped playing hockey so I could try other sports, mainly football. I also played lacrosse and swam. My family is super athletic.”
And the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” rings very true for Mbereko.
“A few months later, a friend who was on the team asked if I wanted to try out and this time for goalie,” he said. “I think I was a little scared at first because I didn’t know what to expect since the pucks are coming right at you. My parents told me to go try and see if I liked it.
“I was offered a spot and realized that this was an eye-opening experience. It was definitely something that I wanted to do.”
Once Mbereko started playing hockey, his dad, Isaac and some other hockey managers around the Aspen area really helped him and other players pursue the sport.
“It all started with an idea by my dad and some other hockey individuals,” said Mbereko. “They decided to start a travel team, the Rocky Mountain Snow Kings. It was a AA travel team and the idea was to go and play in the big tournaments in Michigan and Minnesota.”
Mbereko’s dad and brother have played a major role in his development as a player. He always looked up to his brother, Zak.
Photo by Rena Laverty
“My dad and brother have had a big influence on me,” said Mbereko. “I wouldn’t have started playing hockey if it wasn’t for my brother. He really showed me what it takes to play, especially the training on and off the ice. He showed me how to prepare to compete every day. I looked up to him so much.”
While rugby was his dad’s sport — Isaac played professionally in Zimbabwe and for the U.S. National Team — he had some words of advice and wisdom for his son that apply to hockey as well.
“Since he was a pro player, he really has been able to share the heart it takes to make it to that level,” explained Mbereko. “He was always there for my brother and I and my mom, too. If I want to make it to the NHL, he understands the importance of hard work, training and taking care of yourself. It’s the little things that you have to do.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
It should be no surprise that Mbereko jumped at the opportunity to represent his country and played for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. He appreciates the opportunity to wear the jersey each and every day and how much it means to his family.
“It’s more than just wearing the USA jersey; I’m representing my family too,” he stated. “They have made so many sacrifices so I can play hockey and have spent time and money on the sport. I’m so proud to be able to wear it.”
As a goaltender, he experienced a jump in class and had to adjust to playing against teams from the USHL.
“It was a bit of an adaption for me, playing against men,” explained Mbereko, 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds. “You are playing against guys who are about to be drafted. You really have to mature quickly. I made such a big jump from that first game to mid-season. I really focused in on my development, whether it was working on my angles or challenging the shooter. You really have to focus on what happens with that first shot.
“As a player, you need to be calmer in net to give the team a chance to win and make the save when needed. You cannot worry about your stats; you have to put the team first. Coach Wrobo [John Wroblewski] always says that the team is most important, and you have to take care of what you can control to be successful.”
That could be a huge reason why his work with goalie coach Kevin Reiter has been very special for him and has helped him in his development.
“In practice, he has me focus on the first save,” explained Mbereko. “It’s all about the details. You have to treat each practice as a game situation; you just can’t go through the motions. You need to have a plan and do the little things. You have to have a first shot mentality and play out the rebound. You can’t focus on that second shot.”
If there is a second shot, Mbereko will be there to make the acrobatic save.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.