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'I honestly never saw myself being in this position'

Prospect Kieran Ruscheinski watched the Canadiens down the Flames on Thursday night in Calgary

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

EDMONTON - It's safe to say that prospect Kieran Ruscheinski will never forget attending his first Canadiens game.

Back in his hometown of Calgary while his Salmon Arm Silverbacks (BCHL) were on break, the 18-year-old defenseman hit up the Scotiabank Saddledome press box on Thursday night to see Claude Julien's squad battle the Flames.

Ruscheinski was treated to a memorable affair, of course, with Max Domi settling the score in overtime to send Habs fans home happy.

"I honestly never saw myself being in this position, but it's pretty cool," said Ruscheinski, who was selected in the seventh-round, 206th overall this past June in Vancouver. "It's even better that the game is on home turf at the Saddledome. Ten times better."

Since being drafted by the Canadiens, Ruscheinski has made a point of keeping a close eye on their games and the play of several defensemen in particular.

"I watch a lot of their games. I'm watching guys like [Shea] Weber and [Cale] Fleury. I just watch each shift from each guy and try to take little pieces of their game and learn from it so I can make myself a better hockey player," explained Ruscheinski, who has three assists and 25 penalty minutes in 30 games during his first BCHL campaign. "I'll watch Fleury and [Victor] Mete because they play hard and they're the younger guys. And Shea, he's big like me. He plays more my style of game from a defensive standpoint, so he's good to follow."

Photo Credit: Pure Life Photography

Like Weber, Ruscheinski is most definitely a towering figure. The left-handed shooting blueliner stands 6-foot-6 and tips the scales at 210 pounds.

Knowing full well that size isn't everything in hockey and that skill development matters, however, he's making the most of his time with Salmon Arm to take his game to another level.

"It's a learning process, but I feel I've gotten better with each game," said Ruscheinski. "We have a really good team this year and a really good coaching staff. I kind of got put in the perfect position to succeed and grow. And it's also a very competitive league. If you're not bringing your best, you're going to lose. You've got to make sure that you're ready every night."

Photo Credit: Pure Life Photography

With the help of head coach Scotty Atkinson, the Canadiens' hopeful is focusing his efforts on polishing his stick skills and learning the intricacies of getting pucks through to the net.

But in their short time together, the Silverbacks' bench boss has become a mentor for Ruscheinski with respect to off-ice matters, too.

"He's probably the smartest person I've ever talked to. He knows a lot about the game and about life," praised Ruscheinski, regarding the former longtime head coach at Mount Royal College and the University of Calgary. "He knows what it takes to be successful as a person and as a player, so I make sure to listen to him."

A significant switch

How has life changed for Ruscheinski since joining the Canadiens' fold? 

"I guess I'm getting a lot more attention, and I'm still learning how to deal with that attention," confided Ruscheinski. "Everything I've been doing from that point of bring drafted has been about preparing to hopefully one day make it if I keep working hard."

With that in mind, Ruscheinski spent six weeks in Montreal over the summer training at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard and living with fellow prospects Josh Brook and Cole Fonstad.

It proved to be another motivating experience for last season's Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League (AMHL) MVP, and only strengthened his resolve to achieve his long-term objective.

Photo Credit: Pure Life Photography

"I learned a lot, and I keep saying that, but I really did," insisted Ruscheinski. "Getting to experience that and watch how things operate, it taught me a lot about what I've got to keep doing and what it takes."

And as far as going late in the Draft is concerned, Ruscheinski isn't going to let a simple number pre-determine his future.

"There's guys playing in the National Hockey League that didn't even get drafted. They just kept working and grinding and perfecting their craft," concluded Ruscheinski. "As excited as I was to get drafted, I know it doesn't really mean much at the end of the day until you make it, so I'm taking it as it is, making sure that I come prepared every day, and I just bring that effort and intensity."

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