In a northern Alberta town with a population of nearly 4,000, it didn’t take long for the news to spread about one of their own.
On April 16, 20-year-old Fairview native Kenton Helgesen signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks – the standard signing term for a rookie – in Fairview.
“It’s pretty surreal. It’s kind of a weird feeling to describe. When I got the opportunity to do it, I was with my Dad (Tom) and signed it. I don’t know, it’s tough to explain… it’s a dream come true I guess you could say,” said Helgesen from his home in Fairview.
“It was a pretty cool experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
After the deal was processed and approved by the NHL, the Ducks formally made the announcement on April 19, a day after the team took a 2-0 best-of-seven series lead with a 3-2 victory against the Dallas Stars in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Once they announced it, it was kind of tough not to tell everyone. I told all my family and a couple of my good friends. Once they announced it, my phone has kind of been non-stop the last day here and it’s been pretty unreal,” said Helgesen.
Helgesen was the first Grande Peace Athletic Club alumnus to be drafted into the NHL (2012, seventh round, 187th overall). In 2008-2009, he played for GPAC’s bantam AAA Storm, then the midget AAA Storm, before making the jump to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Grande Prairie Storm in 2010-2011.
Having been drafted by the Calgary Hitmen in the sixth round (132nd overall) of the 2009 Western Hockey League’s Bantam Draft, Helgesen joined the team and made his WHL debut in 2011-2012.
“It’s one thing to get drafted, but to officially become a part of it (the Ducks), it’s unreal,” he said.
‘Unreal’ is a term that is best used to describe his 2013-2014 season.
Helgesen scored 10 goals and added 41 assists while playing as a forward and defenceman. The Hitmen finished third in the Eastern Conference, but was defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Kootenay Ice.
At the team’s awards banquet on March 16, he was awarded the Suncor Energy Player of the Year, which was also awarded to Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf during his Hitmen days – and also landed the TELUS Coaches Award.
“I had a great season with Calgary and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but I think in the end, I’m pretty happy with my season,” he said.
“As a team we had a great season and in the playoffs, I think we gave up too many goals. I wish I could still be playing there.”
Helgesen says contract discussions began on March 30. Helgesen’s agent negotiated the entry-level deal with Ducks General Manager Bob Murray.
Although Helgesen hasn’t had formal contact with Murray, he says it took two and a half weeks to get the deal done, noting his goal was to sign a year or two after being drafted.
Once he got word that the Ducks were interested, he had already returned home to his home in northern Alberta.
“It’s one thing to get drafted, but to ink a deal and officially become a part of it, it’s unreal,” he said, adding “that’s the big contract everyone dreams of getting.”
“If I didn’t sign it with Anaheim then I might of gone through the draft again and maybe get drafted, but this is what me and my family wanted, is to sign this. We discussed it and we’re very happy with it.”
Next stop: American Hockey League?
Although the Ducks haven’t announced it, Helgesen says there’s a possibility that he’ll be sent to the Ducks farm team, the Norfolk Admirals, who are set to play the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate), in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, set to begin on April 25 in Manchester.
“It’s pretty exciting. I’m not sure if I’ll be playing. I’m still waiting to see if it’s for sure I’m going down. I know they wanted to bring me down if they made the playoffs and they (Norfolk) made it in on the weekend, so I might be headed that way,” he said.
“I want to show up there and show them what I can do. I think since the last time I’ve been up with the team (Ducks), I think I have improved a lot and I’m going to show the best I can there.”
Helgesen says the contract signing won’t change his off-season training routine, which he plans to do in Calgary.
“I got a big summer of training to do. It’s one step at a time, but you could say it’s my job to train and get better all the time,” he said.
Walking down Fairview’s Main Street is no ordinary stroll for him anymore, he’s a small-town celebrity.
“I know half the town anyway. It’s pretty cool how it works and how quick word travels,” he said with a laugh.
“All of my friends and family have been calling and texting me. Like I said, my phone has just been going non-stop here, it’s pretty crazy.”