By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
The first thing you notice about Bernhard Keil is the smile.
That’s because it’s hard to miss something that’s always there.
The second thing you notice is that this guy is Mr. Positive . . . Mr. Sunshine . . . Mr. Glass Half-Full. You get the feeling that it’s always spring in his world.
He likes his teammates. His billets are great. The arenas are wonderful. He likes absolutely everything, but he especially likes to shoot the puck.
“It’s nice to be here,” Keil said, with a smile, after the Kamloops Blazers had finished their Thursday practice at Interior Savings Centre.
The WHL’s Blazers are preparing to wrap up their six-game exhibition season tonight and Saturday against the Prince George Cougars. The teams will play here — game time is 7 o’clock — and in Prince George tomorrow.
Keil is from Germany. The Blazers selected him in the CHL’s 2010 import draft; he and Slovakian centre Dalibor Bortnak are the team’s two European players.
While many European players struggle in the first season of a move to North America, Keil shrugged it off. He said it wasn’t hard for him to leave home because “I wasn’t at home.”
Keil is from Amberg, where his parents, Bernhard and Christina, have a Mexican/German restaurant. Keil was playing hockey in Mannheim.
“I was 300 kilometres away from home,” he explained. “Now it’s a bit farther but I speak a lot to my parents and to an aunt and uncle.”
Keil totalled 76 points, including 26 goals, in 34 games with the Mannheim juniors last season. He also accumulated 119 minutes in penalties.
To date, he has played four exhibition games with the Blazers and is enjoying it.
“It’s more harder than in Germany,” he said, “because you can do everything with the checks. In Germany, you get every time two minutes or 10-minute penalty.
“It’s fun here.”
You know what they say about boys being boys. Well, a smiling Keil said he’s getting used to having opposing players running at him, and added that as he gets used to the style over here he’ll be doing that, too.
“I like it,” he said. “Very. I like it more than Germany because there is more body contact. I like it when it’s like that.”
And, at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he is big enough to look after himself.
“Yeah,” he said, with a big smile this time.
One of the reasons there is more body contact, of course, is that the ice surfaces here are smaller than the Olympic-size rinks Keil played on in Germany.
“It’s really smaller,” he said. “There isn’t so much time here. Things happen quick . . . really quick.”
Over here, he also is skating with older players. The league in which he played in Germany was for players 15 to 18 years of age.
“This is quicker than at home,” he said, “and there are older guys here. I like it. It’s fun.”
The only two WHL buildings he has seen so far are here and in Kelowna. Guess what?
“I like them,” he said. “In Germany we don’t have rinks like this.”
Then, with a look directed towards the bowl in the ISC, he added: “It’s huge.”
In Germany, he said, the arenas he played in had large ice surfaces but only room for 400 or 500 fans.
The acclimatization process has been made easier for Keil by his billets, Karen and Ed Wasser, who are Canadians with Swiss roots to their family tree. After having Jimmy Bubnick and Slovakian Matej Bene with them last season, the Wassers now have opened their doors to Keil and Rhyse Dieno, a forward who is from Saskatoon.
Keil is especially enjoying his new ‘family’ because “when I have some problems with English, I can speak with them in German.”
Then, with a smile and a chuckle, he added: “When (Dieno’s) there we speak English, when I’m alone we speak German.”
Nah, Karen said, that’s not quite true.
“We try to speak English to him most of the time,” she said. “He always asks . . . if there’s a word he hears somewhere, he’ll ask what it means.”
Keil said he also has received a lot of support from his teammates.
Asked if they are good guys, Keil replied: “Perfect.”
“When I have some problems, they speak slower or explain it,” he said. “I like that.”
Going into tonight, Keil has three goals and an assist in the exhibition season. The goals, however, came over the first two games.
“I had a good start in the first games,” he said, admitting that while he has played mostly on a line with Bortnak it has been difficult adapting to new linemates.
Still, from what he has seen to this point, Keil said he thinks he’ll be able to score at this level.
And, of course, he likes to shoot the puck.
“Yeah,” he said, “and the coach says I have a good shot.
“I like that.”
JUST NOTES: F Matthew Needham, whom the Blazers selected eighth overall in the 2010 bantam draft, is scheduled to make his WHL debut tonight. Needham, from Penticton, will wear No. 14, the same number his father, Mike, wore when he played for the Blazers (1986-90). Mike totalled 243 points in 176 games. . . . The Blazers will have F JT Barnett, 18, available for both games this weekend. Barnett, who scored the winning goal as the Minnesota Wild beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 on Wednesday to win the Traverse City, Mich., prospects tournament, was reassigned to the Blazers yesterday. . . . D Josh Caron, who also was with the Wild prospects on a tryout agreement, was held over for main camp. . . . F Brendan Ranford attended the Philadelphia Flyers’ prospects camp and advanced to main camp, which opens today with physicals in Voorhees, N.J. . . . F Chase Schaber, who was will Edmonton’s prospects in Penticton, also has moved on to main camp, as have D Austin Madaisky with the Columbus Blue Jackets and D Corey Fienhage with the Buffalo Sabres.
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