By Jamie Neugebauer
Corey Kalk is not your typical high-scoring first-liner.
When a player averages over 1.5 points-per-game consistently throughout the season while playing big minutes, it would seem safe to assume that heading into the campaign his biggest aspirations included a scoring title, an all-star appearance and/or national recognition.
But not him.
While he may very well earn those things when all is said and done, his answer to what he wanted to accomplish might be surprising.
“This year my goal was to crack the penalty kill,” Kalk said.
“At the next level you have to be able to do everything. You may not be on the power play right away moving forward so you need to go block a shot or take or make a big hit, and the best way to get out there is to get on the penalty kill.
“[Rangers head coach John] Dean has recognized my hunger for that, and he has given me that chance. I know I’m not perfect, but I try my best and I feel like I am constantly getting better.”
The 18-year-old is slated to join veteran NCAA coach Bob Gaudet and the Darmouth Big Green in the Division I ranks in a couple of years. Yet it is clear when talking to him that he already possesses a strong understanding of the college game.
Off the ice, Kalk is a friendly, engaging individual with a deep appreciation for the importance of showing respect to everyone around him. His philosophy is to take the golden rule a step farther, and that attitude makes him an easy guy to like.
“If I want someone to respect me then I need to respect everyone around me,” he said.
“If someone sees me not respecting someone else, then what are they going to think of me? My parents a very generous, loyal people and they has always taught me from the day I was born just to be a good guy first; to be a positive influence on people because that is what people really remember.”
At game-time, however, the 5-foot-11 and 165 pounder flicks a very different switch. His play combines a tangible smoothness and composure with the puck, with voracity and a high level of intensity without it. His vision to find and create space has proven this season that he is as special of a scorer as any in the OJHL.
Kalk is especially adept at finding the puck in crowded areas, such as long the boards, and making plays without needing much time to process the situation. Nevertheless despite his possession of tremendous talent and a clearly out-going demeanour, the Thornhill native strives to place recognition elsewhere as often as he can.
And in this case, he points to a couple of people that don’t even play hockey.
“Really those abilities are just pure determination and the ability to see the play before it happens,” Kalk said regarding his skillful vision and eye-hand coordination.
“But I can’t really take credit for that. They are natural abilities that have come from genetics from my mom (a former professional tennis player) and my grandfather (a former professional soccer player).”
For Corey, the connection between soccer and his on-ice play goes further than simply the skills his grandfather displayed playing in the top ranks in South Africa. Kalk and line-mate (and fellow Rangers sniper) John Carpino have played ‘the beautiful game’ together since they were both seven, and the line of thinking that they put into playmaking often derive from their hours out on the pitch.
“I actually played soccer before I played hockey,” Kalk said.
“I played it up until a couple of years ago when I decided to focus 100% on hockey. Yet the times in soccer when you put your foot on the ball and need to use the time you have effectively, have certainly translated into my game.”
So when the Rangers picked up Carpino after the Vaughan Vipers folded in the off-season, Kalk saw an opportunity to provide a new spin on finding ways to create offence with his old friend.
“John and I draw up some soccer plays on the ice and make it into a hockey play,” he said.
“There is lot of drop-passing that happens in soccer that we do in hockey, so there is a definite comparison there.”
After 34 games, the combination has been dominant, combining for 104 points; good enough for second best among pairings in the league behind Oakville’s Renouf twins.
Earlier in his junior career, the criticism that Kalk most heard was that he was unwilling to go to the tough, physical areas of the ice. However after an off-season of hard work, and the guidance of coach Dean, he has not only done that, but has made a habit of it when he is playing at his best.
“Dean told me that you score goals in the dirty areas of the ice,” Kalk said.
“Some games you’re not going to have a burst of offence, like not every shot is going to go in, or every pass you make is going to be a back-door one. So by standing in front of the net on the power play, or screening the goalie or maybe getting into it after the whistle with a couple of guys, it definitely motivates you and gets you into the game.”
From a young age, his dream was solely focused on taking the college rout and his family has always made it very clear that academics came before hockey. His parents’ attitudes of hard work and focus have rubbed off on him, and he has reaped the rewards of reaching an Ivy League school while playing the game he loves at a high level.
Yet through it all, Kalk has had no troubles keeping perspective.
“My career has kind of taken off this year and I can only be thankful and grateful,” he said.
“I just pride myself on being humble. That individual stuff only comes when the team does well, and just being with the coaches and playing with guys that just want to win has made me a better player.
“If you told me two or three years ago that I’d have a spot of the final camp for Team Canada East, I’d be in the all-star game, and I’d have 50 points half-way through the season, I’d laugh.
“I wouldn’t even think I would be on a junior team.”
John Dean and the Rangers organization as a whole, on the other hand, are certainly very happy that he is.