Hours after arriving on a one-way ticket to Nuremberg, Germany, Kenny Turner was flying down the Autobahn with his agent in a BMW travelling at top speed.
The ex-Thunder Bay North Star, Waterloo Warrior and new Tier III forward with Selb ERC in the Oberliga topped off the ride with an 11 a.m. schnitzel and a beer.
Welcome to Europe and the pro ranks, young man.
Waterloo assistant coach Mike Zettel made the suggestion to Turner. Turner had enough German ancestry to qualify for an European Union passport. The Selb team was able to add him without using up one of their two import picks. Those went to Lanny Gare (Vernon, B.C.) and Ian MacDonald (Edmonton).
Turner fashioned a 41-game season across the pond in 2019-20 and met a few long lost relatives along the way. His passport opens up 28 countries to him, and now has a place overseas to visit.
Because of the rural setting of Selb, located near the Czech Republic, Turner was compelled to learn German, and did so. Selb head coach Henry Thom spoke English — a bonus.
Just months removed from his European stint, Turner is now back in his hometown of Thunder Bay an assistant coach with the Kings AAA under-18 team. He’s seeing the game from a new perspective.
“I do see things differently,” said Turner, 25. “Because I now try to look at structure, how people are playing, the way people are playing games, what they’re doing on penalty kill, what they’re doing on power play. Before I was just looking at who’s scoring, who’s creating offence.
“Now it’s a little bit more about what the coaches are doing. Who do they have out there, how often are they out there. That’s something I have to get used to: Bench management. As a player you don’t really think about that. Now I’m thinking about who has to go out there, for what purpose, who’s tired, who’s fresh. It’s been a new experience going from player to coach.”
As a new coach, Turner can draw upon his recent career and latest training and act as a liaison between the players and the coaches. He, and fellow assistant Jason Cupp have developed a good rapport.
Turner is under the guidance of Gary and Jeff Ricciardi, head coaches of the U18 and U16 Kings, respectively. He’s been with the Ricciardi brothers’ Core Hockey training program for several years, both as a student and instructor.
As a former North Star team captain and winner of the 2015-16 Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Most Improved Player, the Turner brings a lot to the table.
“I can’t thank Gary and Jeff Ricciardi enough for the opportunities they’ve provided me, through learning to coach with them through Core Hockey and the Kings,” said Turner. “Jeff and Gary know the game so well. They are two of the best coaches I’ve been around. I couldn’t say no. I’m just grateful for the opportunities they’ve provided me. They’re both extremely good motivators. They carry this presence with them.”
A series of events has brought Turner full circle back to Thunder Bay. After his North Stars career, he wanted to continue his education away from home.
Then-assistant North Star coach and Waterloo alumnus Doug Colbon helped Turner become a student/athlete at Waterloo. His academic standing at Lakehead University also helped pave the way.
Turner was a healthy scratch for much of his Waterloo career, but did come back to have a two-point night against the Lakehead Thunderwolves at Fort William Gardens. The Warriors were loaded with good players, and smart ones too. Of the 23-man roster, 18 players were all-academic, all-Canadian.
Education is very high on Turner’s radar. He took Kinesiology at Lakehead and eventually got his Bachelor of Sciences degree.
“As a coach moving forward I’m really going to push education and grades onto my players,” said Turner. “A lot of the time (poor grades) closes the door for a lot players when they want to move on. Make sure your grades are taken care of. Being a good student, being a good person are arguably just as important if not more important than what you do on the ice. Doors get closed for people (who falter academically).”
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily shut down Turner’s pursuit of becoming a pilot. Turner’s grandfather flew a Lancaster bomber in the Second World War, and his father has a commercial pilot’s license. The pair also hand-built a float plane back in the mid-1990s.
“I grew up around aviation. Moving to a career in aviation has always been an interest of mine,” said Turner, who is hoping to and a career that keeps him at home and coaching with the Kings.
An offensively-minded but defensively responsible forward, Turner never had it easy as a player.
“For the kids who aren’t playing triple-A, I wasn’t one. I was cut from every triple-A team I tried out for till I was 16 or 17,” he recalled. “I played peewee. I was cut every year until I was 17 and I moved away. So I wasn’t a AAA player. I was never told that I couldn’t continue to play.
“There’s an underdog story, right? You don’t have to play Kings to make it. If you work hard, develop your skills, and you’re good at school, you know how to speak to people and you’re a good person the sky is the limit.”