Fate or coincidence, some things were just meant to be - like Kingsford, Michigan native, Kevin Gravel, following in his hockey-playing dad's footsteps to St. Cloud State, en route to playing for the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL.
He was drafted by the Kings in the fifth round, 148th overall, in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the same year as teammate Tyler Toffoli. Gravel admits that he didn't realize his dream of playing in the NHL could be a reality until he was actually called up by the Kings last February.
"You turn pro, you sign and you get better in the American League... it's funny because it still kind of seems far away, no matter how close you actually are to it, until you finally get the call," explains the 24-year-old Gravel. "I remember I was in San Jose last year, and we got the call - me and Peter [Budaj] actually, at the same time. [The Kings] were in New York, so flying over to New York, I was trying to get my bearings and figure out what I was about to step into. It was pretty cool. My first game was at the Barclay's Center, then Madison Square Garden. So playing at The Garden in your first couple games is a pretty surreal experience."
Last month, the Kings were back in New York, and playing in both those venues, almost exactly one year later, brought everything somewhat full circle for Gravel. He has three assists so far this season and has yet to score his first NHL goal.
Growing up in the small town of Kingsford, in Michigan's upper peninsula, Gravel, who has one older sister, began playing hockey around the age of three. Gravel's father, Jim, was a forward at St. Cloud State, where Kevin went on to play four years while majoring in Finance.
"I'm not from a huge hockey area, but he was born and raised in Minneapolis, so he's obviously played it his whole life," Gravel says about his dad. "So he got me into it young and I've loved it ever since."
Despite the fact that Jim and Kevin share an alma mater, their hockey similarities may end there. Jim is 5-foot-9 and was a scoring forward in his playing days, while Kevin stands 6-foot-4 and chose to play defense after trying it out during his Pee Wee years.
It was at St. Cloud where Gravel met Kings teammate Nic Dowd. The two were roommates in college, before both were drafted by Los Angeles, and subsequently played for the Manchester Monarchs, and Ontario Reign. Together they helped the Monarchs win the Calder Cup Championship during Manchester's last season in the AHL, and the two have now spent the last seven years playing for the same team.
While Gravel claims he didn't have a hockey idol as a kid, he was a fan of the Detroit Red Wings and the Minnesota Wild.
"Minnesota was the closest team. I was five hours from Minneapolis, but I did get every Detroit game, just because it was Michigan and we get that channel. I grew up watching all the Detroit games while they were winning their Cups, so I did enjoy watching them play," recalls Gravel who appreciated having the luxury of watching the great Nicklas Lidstrom play defense on a nightly basis. "I went to school in Minnesota at St. Cloud State, so I got all the Wild games then, so pretty much I just liked to watch the game when I was growing up, so whatever was on TV."
These days, Gravel watches his TV while on the plane traveling from one NHL city to the next, and 'Homeland' and 'House of Cards' are amongst his favorite shows. He confesses to not being much of a music listener - that whatever is on in the locker room is what he listens to in a typical day.
Much of what little free time Gravel has is spent with his girlfriend and their dog, who are now living with him in Los Angeles. Sam, a mixed-breed rescue dog, recently turned three years old, and although the rain put a damper on a birthday hike - which Gravel was secretly happy to get out of - the couple did take him out for a birthday meal and a game of fetch.
Make no mistake, Gravel is focused on the challenge at hand: improving his NHL game and maintaining his roster spot with the Kings so that he can, at the very least, move out of the hotel and into a more permanent residence.
"These guys are the best players in the world and you can get made to look pretty pedestrian by them sometimes," concedes Gravel. "You're going to have your ups and downs being a young guy in the League, and you experience the same things at whatever level you jump up to. It's the same thing going to the American League or going to college. It's not always going to be smooth sailing. Your confidence is going to go down a little bit here and there, but it's about working through it and putting in the time in practice and staying with it and continuing to establish yourself and get better."
Being from a town called Kingsford, now playing for the LA Kings, as long as he keeps up his work ethic, he has to feel good about his chances.