When asked about his hometown, Cole Keenleyside is straight to the point: "Not much happens there... it's a pretty small place."
A lot does happen in the village of Hazlet, Saskatchewan. In the 2016 census, showing 106 residents, Hazlet is renowned for its baseball teams. They were a world pioneer in providing universal healthcare starting in the 1940s and in 2009 undertook a project to create the first wind-powered recreation complex in Canada. Talk about impressive.
Keenleyside played a lot of sports in school, including baseball. A school that attracts students from around the world due to its internationally accepted accreditation programs, such as the International Baccalaureate, sparks plenty of excitement.
It is perhaps this humble attitude that has led Keenleyside, 21, to his current status as a student-athlete. Currently, he resides in Portage College in Lac La Biche, Alberta. He is a right-wing for the Voyageurs in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) men's hockey.
Growing up on a farm stocked with Black Angus beef cattle, Keenleyside said his "passion for hockey" had "probably started in Peewee when I made my first Peewee AA team."
A few years later, he would be suiting up for the Swift Current Raiders Bantam AA (2011-2013), wherein 42 games, he would record 13 goals and 17 assists.
Keenleyside's parents would have to regularly drive the 45 minutes down Highway 332 for practice and games.
"It was a long drive and mom or dad usually drove and I usually slept in the front seat," recalls Keenleyside, who in his spare time enjoys hunting coyote and deer while also fitting in some ice fishing.
His next step up in the hockey ranks was playing with the Yorkton Terriers (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League).
He was joining a team that had just won the 2013-2014 Royal Bank Cup (RBC) defeating Carleton Place Canadians (CCHL) 4-3 OT. The RBC is symbolic of Junior A hockey supremacy in Canada.
Unfortunately, during his 2014-2019 Terrier stint, the team never got past post-season quarterfinals. During his Junior A career, he laced up the skates in 209 games while recording 49 goals and 67 assists.
The rugged forward was also whistled for 453 penalty minutes.
During the Junior A hockey season, he would attend Yorkton Regional High School only to return to Hazleton after hockey season for the rest of the school year.
"I wanted to come back home because that is where my friends and family were. Plus, in Grade 12, I wanted to graduate with the friends I had grown up with back home."
Following his Junior A career, Keenleyside, despite offers south of the border from NCAA Division III schools, decided upon Portage College as it "was financially cheaper."
Of the acquisition of Keenleyside, Portage Voyageurs men's hockey coach Nate Bedford said in a June 2019 media release: "Cole is a tough kid, I thought he played his best hockey in the 2018/19 playoffs (14 games 4 goals 1 assist 20 penalty minutes) with the Yorkton Terriers of the SJHL.
He is a power forward who stands up for his teammates and is fearless. I look forward to coaching such a player who can play in all situations".
Of the difference between Junior A and ACAC calibre hockey, Keenleyside surmises: "It is a little bit faster, and the players are a little bit bigger."
Also on the Voyageurs roster is rookie Shane Sherban (Lanigan, Saskatchewan), a teammate from the Terriers who are also Keenleyside's current roommate.
"We were always good buddies, so it was good to have someone here that you already know."
Asked what his skills and weaknesses on the ice are, Keenleyside replied: "Strong points? I'm a power forward and play the body. Weak points? Skating. Probably my speed."
The 5-foot-11 Keenleyside is enrolled in Power Engineering and stats wise has six goals and three assists with 38 penalty minutes in 16 games.