When Andrew Brown, a forward with the Lakehead University Thunderwolves hockey team, bumps into a teammate at the rink or in the classroom, the conversation quickly turns to his roommate, Drew Kivell.
Kivell, a defenceman, has made it through three days of training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his buddies in Thunder Bay have been hungry for the latest news on his trials and tribulations.
"Obviously, he can’t spend the entire day on the phone or e-mailing all of us," said Brown, who talked with Kivell yesterday. "The guys want to know how Drew is doing and what it’s been like. He said that he’s being put through the wringer with the fitness testing, the practices and scrimmages, but that the experience has been priceless."
Kivell had his rookie season with the Thunderwolves limited to 29 games last year because of a concussion. With Kivell in the lineup, Lakehead might have beaten the University of Western Ontario Mustangs in the Ontario University Athletics West final. Instead, Lakehead lost the deciding game 5-4 in an overtime thriller.
"It was tough on him," Brown said. "But we were all happy he got this chance with the Leafs. He’s very passionate about the game. He’s a good guy and you like to see good things happen to good people."
Kivell, 6 foot 3 and 223 pounds, was noticed by Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. and his assistant, Mike Penny, during the Making the Cut television series a year ago. Kivell was among the final 18 players, but not one of the six who received invitations to training camp from one of the half-dozen National Hockey League Canadian clubs.
Still, Ferguson caught up with Kivell at a party for the TV series and told him the Leafs were interested and they would keep an eye on his progress with Lakehead.
Penny scouted a Lakehead game early in the season and was convinced that Kivell should be invited to the Leafs’ rookie camp. Kivell, 22, performed well enough at the rookie camp last week to get a spot at the club’s big training camp.
"I must admit, it has been a bit nerve-racking, playing with and against guys I have watched on Hockey Night in Canada," Kivell said. "The first game was a little shaky, going up against guys like Eric Lindros and Steve Thomas.
"It took me a while to wrap my head around the experience. But I refocused that evening and I think I’m holding my own."
Kivell, of Lakeside, Ont., near London, realizes he is a long shot to crack the Leafs’ roster. But there is a remote chance he could stick with the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, this season.
If not the Marlies, then maybe he will be assigned to the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL, formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League. But if Pensacola is the Leafs’ preferred destination for Kivell, he admits it will be difficult to decide whether to report there or return to Lakehead, get caught up in his political science studies and play for the Thunderwolves.
"The goal, in the long run, is to play in the NHL," Kivell said. "This is part of the process. It’s been great to see how I stack up against players at this level."
NHL scouts have been aware of Kivell for a while. He played five seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sudbury Wolves and Kingston Frontenacs. His 321 career OHL games are the second most in league history.
When Ferguson was with the St. Louis Blues, Kivell was invited to the Blues’ rookie camp. He also has participated in a Florida Panthers rookie camp.
"He acquitted himself well at our rookie camp [last week]," Ferguson said. "He has good size, good energy and a good attitude."