Know Your Bobcat – Connor Kelly
Throughout the months of August and September, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats’ Training Camp Roster. Today’s installment features rookie Bobcat forward Connor Kelly.
Name: Connor Kelly
Hometown: Chanhassen, MN
Weight: 185 lbs.
2012-13 Team: Chicago Fury U18
2012-13 Stats: 38 GP, 21 G, 12 A, 33 PTS, 22 PIM
Favorite Book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Favorite Pro Sports Team: Minnesota Wild
Highlight of 2012-13: “In the State Tournament we were playing against Team Illinois I ended up getting in a fight with one of their guys. It was my first fight and one of my buddies got it on video and uploaded it to YouTube, which was pretty funny.”
When Bismarck Bobcats rookie forward Connor Kelly made the jump from Minnesota high school to midget major hockey with the Chicago Fury, he was stepping into an entirely different brand of hockey.
“When I played at Chanhassen High School, I was more of a scorer, a skill guy,” advised Kelly, who led the Storm with 38 goals and 19 assists in 2011-12, “but playing for the Fury, it was a much more defensive style of hockey.
“I had to make a big-time adjustment to fit into the system with the Fury: work on my positioning, my defensive zone play and my physical game. I needed to become a better two-way player.”
While his production would dip from 57 points at Chanhassen to 33 points in Chicago, the ability to adjust to a new style helped open doors for the native Minnesotan.
“When we look for players, we want guys who are able to play different roles,” offered Bobcats assistant coach Garrett Roth, who scouted Kelly while he was with the Fury. “Being able to do it is only half the battle, though: the guy has to be willing to step outside his comfort zone and play different roles, and Connor showed last year that he was definitely willing to be that kind of player.”
And so the Bobcats selected Kelly with their first-round pick in the 2013 NAHL Entry Draft—19th overall.
Now Kelly joins on with a team that values defensive-mindedness, as the Cats finished second in the league defensively in 2012-13, allowing just 2.33 goals per game.
“Defense wins championships. That’s what the coaches tell us and we all know it’s true,” added Kelly. “Playing a two-way game is what I learned in AAA and now it’s what I’m ready to do.
“Unless the coaches have a new role for me, then I’m ready to jump into that, too.”
Fast and Furious
When Connor Kelly made the decision to leave Chanhassen in favor of the Windy City, he was making a curious decision in the traditional views of Minnesota high school hockey.
“Sometimes when guys leave high school hockey in Minnesota for juniors some people are a little upset, so when I made the move to go play midget major for the Fury, a lot of people said ‘what are you doing?’” recalled Kelly.
But Kelly had a plan. The Fury, a part of the prestigious MWEHL, have a long history of developing players for top junior leagues.
“The reason why you see a lot of guys moving on from the Fury is our coach there, Dennis Vaske,” credited Kelly. “He does a great job of developing guys to be physical enough and well-rounded enough to be able to make the transition to be ready not only for juniors but for college and beyond.”
Over the past two seasons, the Bobcats—specifically Roth, who scouts the Great Lakes region for the team—have formed a pipeline with the Fury, taking forward Evan Giesler in the 2012 Draft before drafting Kelly in 2013 while signing Tanner Salsberry and Jeremy Norway to tender agreements from the Chicago club for the upcoming campaign.
“I’ve been working with Coach Vaske and the Fury since my first year in the league (2010, with Aberdeen),” noted Roth. “Players that come from that program are well-coached and are very complete players.”
Jumping to the Fury and the MWEHL had a very practical application for Kelly, as well: Chicago played a schedule of over 60 games in 2012-13, including regular season, showcases and the playoffs; most high school teams had between 25 and 30 contests.
“You look at the Bobcats, or any other junior team for that matter, and the regular season is 60 games,” pointed out Kelly. “The only way to really be ready for that kind of schedule at this level is to have gone through it before.
“And it’s not just the games: it’s the travel, billeting and all the other things that go into juniors that you get kind of a primer on in AAA. It definitely better prepares you for that grind.”
The Next Step
When the Bobcats drafted Connor Kelly in June, it placed him on the team’s protected list for the upcoming season, but Kelly worried it might not come to pass.
“Leading up to the Entry Draft, I’d been in contact with Coach Roth and I was sold on playing in Bismarck,” explained Kelly, “but I’d been getting calls from some other teams around the league saying they had interest, too, and with all the trades at the start of the draft I didn’t know where I’d end up.
“I was at work during the draft, but it was a big relief to check my phone after my shift and see the messages that I was a Bobcat. Being a first-round pick felt pretty good, too.”
Being a draft pick landed Kelly in training camp, where he joined his new teammates in Hell Week and then an extended week of practice before a pair of preseason contests against the in-state rival Minot Minotauros.
Though camp has been a steep challenge for all the Cats’ rookies, Kelly sees the value of the four-week grind.
“We got to get in great shape with Hell Week and then with the preseason games we got to knock the rust off and get all the young guys familiar with the game speed in the NAHL,” assessed Kelly, who saw action in both preseason contests. “Now we have another week of practices to smooth out the edges before we get things started next week.”
The Bobcats will open the 2013-14 campaign next Wednesday in Blaine, Minn., at the Easton NAHL Showcase against the 2012-13 regular season North Division champion Soo Eagles.
Expectations are running high through training camp, from long-time veterans to first-year Bobcats like Kelly.
“There’s a great group of guys in that locker room, not just in terms of talent but chemistry too,” stated Kelly. “Guys are already putting in the work and getting on the same page. We want to work hard enough to be able to take down another Central Division championship and get back to the national tournament and win another Robertson Cup for Bismarck/Mandan.”
Stay tuned to BismarckBobcats.com over the next month-plus as we take you in-depth with every player on the Training Camp Roster in preparation for the 2013-14 season. This week we’ll also sit down with Eric Ylitalo, Tommy Malkmus and Kolton Aubol.