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September 29, 2023

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Back in the saddle again

There aren’t many better hockey players to learn by example from than the Carolina Hurricanes’ Rod Brind’Amour.

‘ ‘ That’s exactly who Falcon forward Kai Kantola, not only watched, but skated with this summer.

Kantola’s parents live in Raleigh, N.C., approximately 15 minutes from a training facility where many of the Hurricanes workout during the summer – often very early in the morning.

‘Man, yeah, sometimes it was 6:30 [a.m.], sometimes 7,’ Kantola said.

In addition to Brind’Amour, now 38 years old but known for training as hard as anyone in the National Hockey League, Kantola skated with other Hurricanes, including Chad LaRose and Cam Ward.

According to Kantola, one day Brind’Amour invited him to skate for two or three weeks of the summer to stay in shape.

‘Those guys train really hard on the ice, so just to see what caliber players they are, it really helped build my confidence,’ Kantola said.

That confidence will perhaps help Kantola, 21, move beyond a disappointing sophomore season in which he played in just 28 of BG’s 39 games. He also said he hopes this summer’s experience will help him overcome a rather forgettable start to last year.

In the team’s first home game, Kantola crushed Notre Dame’s Luke Lucyk into the boards from behind and received a severe, four-game league suspension. That play may have subconsciously left him snake bitten throughout the winter.

‘I watched myself a lot more going into the corners,’ Kantola said, and joked one of his goals this season is ‘specifically, not to get suspended again. That’s for sure.’

On a more serious note, Kantola said he believes he can put up 30 points this season, which would more than double his total of 13 (six goals, seven assists) in 2007-08.

Hockey coach Scott Paluch said he hopes Kantola does put up those kinds of numbers, especially as the team will need to fill the offensive gaps left by departing senior forwards Derek Whitmore, John Mazzei and Ben Geelan.

That trio accounted for more than 20 percent of the team’s points last year.

‘That suspension [against Notre Dame] really kind of chopped up Kai’s year,’ Paluch said. ‘He’s ready for a fresh start, and it would be extremely beneficial for our team if Kai could return to form and have a breakout year.’

Kantola’s parents were both born in Finland, which accounts for his unique name, though he was actually born in Toronto. His parents relocated to North Carolina a few years ago, but he played junior hockey in Fargo, N.D.

Paluch then recruited him to play for BG, where he said he hopes to put his NHL summer training experience into action as a junior this season.

‘7:30 or 7:45 in the morning, it doesn’t matter – as soon as they hit the ice, for those guys [the Hurricanes] it was all work,’ Kantola said.

‘It is a game, but it’s business for them.’

Kantola and the rest of the Falcons open for business on Oct. 4 in an exhibition against Wilfred Laurier.

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