You can take the boy out of Alberta but you can’t take Alberta out of the boy.
Sitting in Victoria’s traffic in a black 1971 Ford 100, there’s nothing glaringly obvious about Keegan Kanzig’s prairie upbringing.
The Victoria Royals defenceman has no cowboy boots or 10 gallon hat. And despite coming from rural Alberta, he’s not an offseason ranch hand. In fact, he’s a lot less cowboy than some of the Langford players coming out of Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey.
But he does have that truck, complete with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror.
“The dice were a gift, that’s all I can say,” Kanzig said. “The truck I picked up back in 2010 from someone in Spruce Grove. It wasn’t specifically a 1971 Ford that I wanted, but a truck with that era of body style.”
To look at it, the old Ford has led a good life, with a few dings to prove it.
Its clad with a vintage Alberta licence plate on the front and a rusted long bed that could haul at least half a dozen hockey bags. It’s size is a pretty good fit for the gentle giant, who carries his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame with a sense of calm.
Of course, he’s not so gentle on the ice. But away from the rink, Kanzig is one of nine Royals students that excel as full time students of Vic High.
“So far I’ve put in a decent amount of work, a new starter and distributor cap, which I did on my own,” Kanzig said. “At school I replaced the rear axle seals and worked on the brakes.”
Kanzig’s mechanical inclinations can be traced directly back to his dad, who works in Athabasca as a mechanical engineer, though the family is now based in Fort Saskatchewan.
“(Kanzig) is the first Royals player to be in my mechanics class and he’s been great,” said Mark Van Akker, the auto shop teacher at Vic High. “He has a future in it if he needs it.”
But it’s not all wrenches and motor oil for Kanzig. Last year, the 17-year-old aced Math 12 as a Grade 11 student, and yet he defers to 16-year-old Royals rookie Joe Hicketts as the math whiz.
“Hicketts is doing the same thing, but both are very bright math students,” said Tammy Renyard, the Royals’ education advisor.
When Renyard first took on the role she was the vice principal at Vic High. She’s since become the vice principal at Spectrum Community School but continues to work with Vic High and the Royals.
She’s also the mother of Nic Renyard, 18-year-old goaltender with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, which helped lead her to the world of hockey players and school.
“Vic High has been extremely flexible to support the boys,” she said. “They all have strong marks and work very hard to maintain the balance of school and hockey.
“It’s not like the old days (of the WHL). Actually, it’s anything but. Parents have high expectations on the school front.”
If Kanzig is Example A, then Hicketts is Example A1.
Hicketts is one of four Royals in Grade 11 with Ryan Gagnon, Brandon Fushimi and Jack Walker, while Kanzig is among the graduating players with Luke Harrison, Kolton Dixon, Taylor Crunk and Logan Fisher.
Hicketts, however, is a bit of a smarty pants. If he wasn’t such a shift disturber on the ice, one might ask to see his pocket protector.
“He’s technically of Grade 11 age but is on track to graduate early and is carrying a full course load for Grade 12,” Renyard said.
Renyard is also quick to point out that the Royals at Vic High aren’t the only students on the team.
Ben Walker is taking a course at Camosun College. Jordan Fransoo has been doing first year economics through UVic and is now one of three Royals taking online courses through Athabasca University, which is beneficial because the courses can be done one at a time.
“It’s not unheard of for WHL players to complete their first year of university before they go to the CIS,” Renyard said. “That way their CIS money goes a lot further. Some even use it to pay for their masters.”
As for Kanzig, he’s hoping an NHL career is in the cards, while “trying not to think about it.”
He was ranked 194th amongst North American skaters in the January release of 2013 eligible skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.
With a pro contract, you can bet that old Ford will get some love.