Kimi Körbler finding groove while first 67’s goal looms
The Ottawa 67’s organization has been blessed in recent years when it comes to their import players. Whether it has been Pavel Mintyukov and Vinzenz Rohrer, or Marco Rossi and Nikita Okhotiuk, there has been no shortage of talent.
This season, the slate was wiped clean, and a new chapter was to be written, as both Swiss forward Kimi Körbler and Vegas Golden Knights prospect Tuomas Uronen joined the club. With Uronen out indefinitely, the responsibility to uphold the high import standard has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the 17-year-old Davos native, which Körbler has met head-on with a trademarked smile.
If you take a look back on training camp and the preseason, Körbler’s talent was obvious, but as a rookie, expectations were quite minimal. While adjusting to the North American style of hockey, mistakes were frequent, and while the occasional dazzle of talent was enough to keep you excited for the future, it was clear there was plenty of work to be done.
“At first, it was difficult to find my spot here,” Körbler said. “It’s very different than Swiss hockey, so I had to get comfortable with the smaller ice, and all the other stuff, and that made it [a challenge] to fit in.”
A different culture, style of game, and language were all things holding the youngster back, but it was the physicality of the OHL that took Körbler by surprise.
“Playing in the OHL is way harder, it’s more physical, and at first, I was maybe a little bit scared of that. I was never the type to play that game, but I understand that I had to be more physical if I wanted to play. I had to switch from being the kid, to being a grown-up.”
In only his second preseason game, Körbler found the back of the net for the first time, and as the weeks went on, he saw clear progress. During a span of two weeks where the Barber Poles only practiced while NHL training camps took priority, Körbler worked his hardest to get better, and understand the game the best he could.
“I had to work hard to get that trust from the coaches,” Körbler said. “Sometimes, I will make a mistake, I’m a rookie here, but when the coaches see that, they at least know I’m working hard.”
Since arriving in Ottawa, the HC Davos youth product has been one of the last to leave the ice consistently, proving his desire to better himself, and earn that trust.
“You want to get better every time you have the chance,” Körbler said. “In Switzerland, we don’t have the chance to stay after practice, and I love doing it. It’s my chance to shoot some pucks and to improve my game.”
Slowly but surely, Körbler has continued to take forward steps, and in time, it has resulted in an increased role. Over the past handful of weeks, the young Swiss national has been trusted with killing penalties, and hasn’t looked out of place.
“I’m a smart player with my stick, and I can block shots,” Körbler explained. “In Switzerland, I was a defensive guy, and I love playing [in my own zone], I don’t need the puck to have fun.”
To date, one of the only things eluding Körbler is his first regular-season goal in the OHL, but it hasn’t been for a lack of chances. A great chance ending with a spectacular save, or a slight deflection by a teammate seems a regularity at this point, and while Körbler wants to light the lamp as soon as possible, he’s not stressed about the lack of scoring.
“I have time,” Körbler said. “It doesn’t have to be this week or next week, it doesn’t matter. When it happens, it happens. I just have to keep playing and creating more chances, so I’m not frustrated. It will happen.”
What has stuck out to him thus far has been the hometown fans. He hasn’t played in front of crowds like this often before, but hearing the cheers and the reassuring words has helped keep him confident.
“When I had my chances, they were cheering for me, and it felt like they were happy for me to be here,” Körbler explained. “Some fans after warm up have screamed from the crowd that I will get my goal, and to keep the work going. It’s a great feeling to have the fans behind you.”
Other than the black beanie and the blond wings shooting out from underneath, Körbler’s most identifiable feature is his smile, which never seems to leave when he’s around the rink. It’s safe to say the kid loves hockey, and being a 67.
Despite living thousands of kilometers away from home, Körbler is enjoying chasing his dream of being an NHL player, and his teammates have made that journey exceptionally fun.
“I have so much fun with all of the guys,” he said. “You can chat with everyone about anything, and on the ice, they always have a joke. It’s always funny being around them.”