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Lenore, Virden ODR play roles in Kalynuk’s hockey career

Wyatt Kalynuk played hockey in Virden, but his early days were also spent skating in outdoor rinks.
Wyatt Kalynuk (centre) playing for Springfield (Mass.) Thunderbirds

A hockey career that started in Lenore and included countless hours honing his game and having fun on a hometown outdoor rink now has Virden product Wyatt Kalynuk playing just one step away from the National Hockey League.

The son of Leanne and Randy Kalynuk suited up this past winter for the Springfield (Mass.) Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League, the loop where the NHL’s top affiliated teams compete. Kalynuk played 21 contests for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2020-2021 and five for that NHL club in 2021-2022. He got his start in hockey more than 1,000 miles away from the Windy City in Lenore with the Little Stars. More recently, Kalynuk’s young niece, Aida, has skated in that community.

“I’ve seen a lot of videos of her skating in Lenore,” said Kalynuk, whose sister Quinn has a son, Jace, along with daughter Aida. “It’s kind of funny to see those videos and think back to when that’s where I first started playing.”

He recently completed his fourth professional season. With the Thunderbirds, the smooth-skating defenceman scored five goals and recorded 13 assists in 66 games. He appreciated playing in front of a fanbase that sold out 20 home games, including 14 straight to end the season. Kalynuk took on a more of a leadership role as a veteran. While he is far from home, he knows he has the support of his parents.

“They don’t miss a game,” said Kalynuk, who has a twin sister, Lexie, in addition to his sister Quinn. “They watch every game on TV. … Happy that I have their support. I’ve always had it. I’m lucky.”

The Thunderbirds are the top affiliate of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. Kalynuk spent parts of the first two seasons of his career with the Blackhawks’ top farm team, the Rockford (Ill.) IceHogs. He split the 2022-2023 AHL campaign between the Abbotsford (B.C.) Canucks, who are affiliated with the nearby Vancouver NHL team, and the Hartford Wolf Pack, who are connected with the New York Rangers.

The University of Wisconsin alum played junior hockey for his hometown Virden Oil Capitals and in the United States Hockey League with the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars and Bloomington (Ill.) Thunder. Before that, he developed his game with the U18 AAA Southwest Cougars and in the Virden Minor Hockey system. Another key part of Kalynuk’s hockey journey is the time he spent at the Virden Community Outdoor Rink, located at the Virden Junior High School.

“One of my favourite times of playing hockey was just being able to go there after school and pretty much spend the whole night there,” he said. “I was lucky my dad was the one who took care of it, still does. … He would always make sure I had some dinner to warm up in the microwave. … He would do his best to flood the ice right after school before he had to run and ref or do whatever he had to do. I think about just how lucky we were to just have a rink like that and a Zamboni.”

Kalynuk feels those hours of relatively unstructured hockey benefitted him.

“Being able to just go out there and have all time you want to be able to do really anything,” he said. “That’s where you develop the skills with the puck, skating, things of that nature. It’s kind of like anything in life – the more time you spend, if you have a true passion and a true love for the sport. Being able to go out on a rink like that, you are going to get better. … Maybe you’re not trying to get better, you’re just going out there for fun. Being able to have that time and a love for the game, it’s a recipe for success.”

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