MISSISSAUGA — There have been setbacks. Many of them.
Like when Kai Schwindt was cut from the Kitchener Jr. Rangers’ triple-A minor midget team and relegated to developmental minor hockey — one level above the house league — three years ago.
Or the following year, when the hockey season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic at a critical time in the Breslau teenager’s career.
There was the night of the Ontario Hockey League draft, where he saw friends get drafted, but never heard his name called.
It was the same story in his NHL draft year. Of no interest. No phone calls. No professional sweater to put on.
Through it all, the 18-year-old didn’t complain. He didn’t give up. In fact, it doubled.
“I’ve always been drawn to hockey all my life,” Schwindt said. “I don’t think I ever doubted myself.”
Last month, that determination paid off.
Schwindt attended Florida Panthers training camp as a guest free agent and walked away with a three-year entry-level contract with the NHL club.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “I worked hard for this and I feel like I deserved it. But I also feel like I still have a lot of work to do.
Schwindt is the younger brother of a family of hockey players.
His older brother Cole was a Panthers third-round pick before being traded to the Calgary Flames last summer. Younger brother Brady was drafted by the Kitchener Rangers but has since been traded to the Mississauga Steelheads.
This is where Schwindt currently plies his trade.
He was starting a season with the Jr. B Kitchener-Waterloo Siskins when the Fish lured him to Mississauga as a free agent just before the start of last season and scored a dozen goals while adding five assists in 68 games as a rookie.
“Kai doesn’t do what he’s asked to do, he does more,” Steelheads general manager and coach James Richmond said. “There are a lot of kids who say they want to be a pro and get the job done, but they don’t show up for morning skates and extra workouts in the gym. Kai does.
It was this attention to detail that caught Florida’s attention.
Schwindt attended the team’s development camp last July and impressed enough to earn an invite to the main training camp, which took place late last month.
“I know I’m not the most gifted guy,” he said. “I’m not going to dwell on everyone. I put my head down and go to work and it pays off.
As Richmond says, “He’s not pretty to look at. But he is damn efficient and a great person of character. These are the guys you win with.
When Schwindt attended his training camp exit interview, he expected the Panthers brass to evaluate his performance and wish him well. Instead, he was offered a three-year contract.
When he officially put pen to paper, the team linked his mother Laura and brother Cole over the phone.
There was one notable absence for the big moment – Schwindt’s father, Jason, who died about a year ago.
“I miss him every day,” he said. “But I think he would be really proud of me for sure.”
Schwindt was back in Canada and on the ice for the Steelheads a day after signing his contract.
He hopes to make the leap to the pros next season and wants to shine with Mississauga, which is considered a contender in the OHL Eastern Conference.
That might be asking a lot.
Again, Schwindt is used to overcoming obstacles.
“Everyone has their own hockey story,” he said. “You just have to trust the process and work and good things will happen to you.”