|Kevin Gravel (photo: B Hemmelgarn)
When you’re taken in the fifth round of the NHL Draft, not many hockey fans know you’re name. Even the most diehard puckheads have only a cursory knowledge of guys selected outside of the first – maybe second – round. For every Brayden Schenn, there’s at least a dozen more like Jeff Shevalier, Peter Hogan and Greg Hogeboom.
Yet, players like Jamie Benn, Rob Scuderi and Ryan Miller have all gone from being fifth round selections to solid pro players. So, chalk it up to being late bloomers or maybe even scouts missing out on what they had to offer, who knows.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that Kings prospect Kevin Gravel has long since moved past the Draft of 2010, all while seeing his stock continue to rise. Currently a sophomore at St. Cloud State University, he also has recently returned from a trip to the World Junior Championships.
Last summer, he penned an article here on MayorsManor and he’s back today to fill us in on what’s been going on over the last month or so.
After surviving the final roster cuts for Team USA in late December – a process that he describes as “pretty nerve racking, just sitting there wondering if your name was going to appear” – Gravel and company kicked things off with a bang, downing Finland 11-3 in their first game.
“Our confidence was really high at that point,” Gravel shared. “Obviously, we were expecting to win that game. But, any time you can put up 11 goals on a team, you’re going to be feeling pretty good about yourself.”
A 4-1 loss to Finland two days later quickly dampened the excitement. “We didn’t come to play, it was inexcusable,” he remembered being the talk back in the locker room following the loss. “We were disappointed by the loss, for sure. But, with the quick turn around we knew we had to forget that one as quick as we could and look ahead.”
Another game, another loss. The Czech Republic squad defeated Team USA 5-2 and with it, the Americans were eliminated from medal play before the round robin portion of the tournament was even completed.
“Not much was said. Guys were pretty much heart broken,” Gravel explained. “Everybody just sat in their uniform for about a half hour after the game. It might not have been shock, but it was disbelief. We couldn’t believe we were actually done and out of the tournament that early. We expected to contend for gold this year. So, to be out so early was pretty hard to swallow for us.”
The following day was New Year’s Eve and with it came the game that everybody had circled on their calendars for nearly a year.
“Any time USA and Canada faceoff, it’s going to be a good game. If you can’t get up for a game like that, you probably shouldn’t be there,” Gravel stated. “Plus, we had a chance to go in there and knock Canada off and put a little bump in their road.”
Mission, well, not accomplished. Canada went up three-nil in the first period and the Americans clawed their way back into it with two goals in the third. Yet, it was another loss for red, white and blue.
Forced to play out the string in the relegation round, the U.S. went on to beat Latvia (12-2) and Switzerland (2-1) to close out the tournament. For Gravel, he was able to end things on a high note though, as he picked up the game winner vs. the Swiss.
“It was a rush up the ice,” was how he began to describe the play. “My D partner, Adam Clendening, jumped down into the play to get the pass. His shot was blocked and the puck bounced right to me. I just took a shot from a little bit inside the blue line and ended up finding its way through and going over the goalie’s shoulder.”
Just a small bit of satisfaction after an otherwise rough couple of weeks.
“I don’t get too many game winners. So, whenever I get one I’m going to cherish it, especially if it comes in the World Junior tournament. I’m probably not going to forget that one.”
He also left Alberta with at least one other lasting memory.
“I knew the fans were going to be pretty hostile and they lived up to it. Basically, every game we played in, except the relegation round, was sold out and I don’t think there was one fan in there cheering for the United States,” Gravel shared. “It’s pretty fun to play in through. I’d much rather play in an environment like that than play in a dead arena with nobody there.”
Back home in St. Cloud, his college teammates gathered over at his place to watch the games. “It meant a lot to me too, knowing that they were all home back watching and keeping a close eye and giving me lots of support. I listened to both of (the St. Cloud) games in the hotel room too. So, I was definitely keeping tabs on them as well,” he said, in reference to a series the Huskies played vs. Western Michigan while he was away.
Gravel also seemed to return to campus with a few new tricks. Primarily known as a defensive-defenseman, he picked up an assist his second game back. But, that’s not even the whole story.
“I actually had a goal disallowed the night before too. So, I’ve turned into a goal scorer,” he said while laughing.
Beyond that, Gravel is focused on two areas – “Personally, I just want to keep improving. I think I’ve had a pretty good year so far, but there are things I’d like to improve on – whether it be, being more comfortable with the puck or chipping in offensively or being more physical. As a team, it’s about getting points every weekend, getting home ice for the playoffs and then ultimately getting a spot in the NCAA tournament.”
Away from the rink, college life has bit bit more tricky.
“To complete the fine arts requirement, I took Music and World Culture, which has a lot of music from Asian and African countries. It was all music majors in the class and then me, so I was completely in over my head. I asked myself many times, ‘What am I doing here?’ It was probably a lot harder of a class than it was ever intended to be.”
Back on the ice though, things are coming along just fine.
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