By Pat Salvas
You don’t see him on most stat sheets. You don’t see him take to the ice following behind the lead of a massive Dartmouth flag and that night’s starting goaltender Fridays and Saturdays.
Most fans don’t see him at all. That’s because most fans aren’t at Thompson Arena for afternoon practices throughout the week.
That’s when you really take notice of Kyle Schussler. That’s where he leaves his mark on this century-old program.
It is there, everyday at practice, that Schussler, a soft-spoken, humble and down-to-earth native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, gives all his effort. And it’s there on that ice, that Kyle Schussler has earned the respect and admiration of every single one of his Dartmouth teammates.
Not your typical defenseman, Schussler is neither tall, nor terribly physically imposing, standing just 5-foot-9 and weighing in at 175. But what he lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for in heart and dedication.
“Ever since I was a little kid my parents have always told us we could do whatever we wanted to do and for me that was always to play hockey. They instilled in me that whatever you do decide you have to do your best and work as hard as you can at it. They made sure that we understood that meant not to give up or quit,” he said of the work ethic that has defined him during his four years in Hanover.
The son of a truck driver and a restaurant manager, Schussler knows the sacrifices that were made for him to play hockey growing up and eventually attend college.
“My dad’s job is not very glamorous, but he does what he has to do to pay the bills and provide us with the life that we have. I have so much respect for him, for what he does and the amount of work he puts in.”
His support also comes from his sister, a speed skater who has twice represented Canada in the Olympics. His only family member to make the trip to the Granite State since Kyle came, Brittany saw what has kept her brother here.
“My sister came down my sophomore year and loved it. Colleges here are nothing like they are in Canada so it’s pretty incredible to come down and see a different aspect of school life at this age that we weren’t accustomed too. “
An unmistakable smile comes over Schussler face when talking about his family. But that same type of look also shows through when he talks about his teammates and especially those who came in with him in the fall of 2008.
“Those guys are very special to me. There is something that you just can’t explain other than to say that they truly are your family. I know a lot of the guys have their families close and a lot of those people have become like my family too.”
Growing up in Winnipeg, Schussler and his parents moved to Alberta when he was 17 where he played his midget and junior hockey.
A member of the Okotoks Oilers, Schussler met teammate Andrew Oswiak ’11 who was a contributing factor in his decision to come to Dartmouth. And after four years, Schsussler has come to understand there is something about college hockey younger players don’t see until they play in the NCAA.
“You play a couple years of juniors, but there is a lot of turnover. Guys get traded, moved up and down or go other places. It’s nothing like what you get playing in school. It’s pretty incredible to play four years with the same guys and really get to know them.”
Playing in just three games over four seasons might be deflating to some, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case with Schussler, who has always had the support of those around him in the locker room.
“There is no question that my teammates have been some of my biggest supporters since coming here. With my family so far away, it’s one of those things right when you get here you understand that your teammates are now part of your family and are here to help you with things.
“There’s been multiple times when one of them has come to me and been really open and helped to motivate me. It’s been a different guy each time too,” he added.
When posed with the question about why he is so well-respected in the dressing room, Schussler tried to defect the attention away from himself and back onto others.
“I don’t know why they feel like that. I try and help them out as much as I can. They do the same thing for me, so it’s really just a mutual respect. “
He continued, “Those guys work just as hard as I do and have an opportunity that they take advantage of and I love to see that for them.”
“Schuss is the best teammate I’ve ever played with,” senior goaltender Jody O’Neill said. “He makes everyone around him better by continually pushing us each practice. He may be more bruised after one practice of blocking shots than some guys are in an entire weekend of playing games.”
With his time dwindling down in Hanover, Schussler (a history and art major) is just like any other college student. He is uncertain as to his future, but he does have a general idea of the direction he would like to take.
“I’m not sure what I want to do yet, but I know it’s going to be something to do with hockey,” he said. “It’s too much of an important part of my life that I’m not ready to give up on yet. I just always want to be involved in the game.”
Although his parents won’t be making it to Hanover for the final weekend of the regular season and the fans in attendance might not know him as well as the other members of his graduating class, you can bet that the biggest ovation that night from the players will be for the teammate who has worn a suit most Fridays and Saturdays, but is there battling alongside them the rest of the week.
And with that, maybe Kyle Schussler will have the most family in attendance this weekend.