Sudbury Wolves captain Michael Kantor comes back to the bench, exhausted, sore and sporting some blood on his jersey.
He just finished a typical shift. All he did was raise hell. Kantor plays a nasty game. He’s not mean or cheap, but when he steps on the ice for his turn, Kantor goes out to make sure his opponents know they have trouble on their hands.
In a matter of about 45 seconds, the emotional leader of the team can wreak a lot of havoc. He throws his weight around and levels opposing players. He gets cross-checked to the back and causes a gathering of angry foes.
He gets into a heated exchange of words and trades insults with a foe. He crashes the net and causes the opposing goalie to stick him in the ribs. He then races back to his own zone and blocks a shot and goes to the bench for a line change.
The next shift, Kantor is unleashing his version of hell again. This time, he takes charge of the puck through the neutral zone and sends it deep into enemy territory.
He quickly follows and nearly drives a defender through the boards.
He makes a nifty pass to a teammate and hurls himself into heavy traffic and slams in a rebound to score a goal, while being knocked flat to the ice.
Just another typical shift for Kantor.
The next shift, Kantor goes out and does more of the same. This time, an opponent has had enough of Kantor’s relentless physical play and challenges him to a fight. Kantor doesn’t hesitate to oblige and fills his challenger with a succession of punches.
It isn’t pretty what Kantor does. He pays the price for his style of play. He accepts it. His acceptance is clear in the bruises, cuts and smashed-up teeth he sports as honour badges.
He does it again and again and again. He knows if he is going to dish out the punishment, he is going to have to take it back and also back it up. Whatever job has to be done for the Wolves, Kantor will do it without question and without mercy for his opponents.
“I’m not going to shy away from anything,” the 20-year-old said. “I love playing a gritty style. I love hitting. I love trash-talking. I will back up my play if I have to, no question.”
The guts-and-grit game Kantor plays can exact a gruesome toll. There have been times this season when he has been forced to wear a full cage on his helmet to protect serious injuries he has suffered while representing the Wolves with a high degree of honour.
He blocked a shot back in December with his face that cracked a bone in his jaw and opened up a gash that needed 35 stitches to close. After coming back from that injury, Kantor was involved in a scrum and took a stick to the mouth that smashed his teeth backwards.
All in a day’s work for this rugged customer from Lake Forest, Illinois.
“I wasn’t too pretty,” Kantor laughed. “Getting hurt is part of the game. You have to be tough. I’ve suffered a lot of injuries, but it has never stopped me from playing the way I play. Nothing would.”
Kantor became a gutsy player by choice. He admitted he put up a lot of points in his minor hockey days, but it never got him the recognition he felt he deserved.
Kantor started playing a robust physical game because he usually played a level up against older and bigger competition.
He also enjoyed few, if any, breaks along the way. Kantor endured a lot of rejection as he progressed through hockey, but never once let anything deter him from his dream of being a pro hockey player.
“Every level I played, there was always people telling me I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I was never drafted into the OHL or the USHL. I was never drafted anywhere. I was cut from teams and told to quit hockey. I always told myself to keep going. I would just push myself harder.”
Kantor was named the Wolves captain in January after former captain Frank Corrado was traded to Kitchener. Sudbury head coach Trent Cull had an easy decision to make when he had to name a new leader. Kantor has always lead by example.
“He has a good heart and he plays with it,” Cull said. “He is a warrior for us and relishes the role. He is serious about his craft. He does it all for us. I can’t say enough about him.”
Kantor has made a positive impact on his teammates and earned their utmost respect.
“He inspires us with his play. Even when he is injured, he gives everything he has,” forward Ray Heuther said. “He has a big heart and good character. He is someone we all can count on to be there for us for any problem.”
The Wolves begin their 2013 post season March 21 in Brampton against the Battalion. Game 2 goes Sunday at 2 p.m. in Brampton. The series shifts back to Sudbury for games three and four on March 26 and 28. Game time for both is 7:30 p.m.