PENTICTON, B.C. — Some kids can fall asleep to the same Dr. Seuss story every night, but that wasn’t for Oliver Kylington. He favoured a tale that was far more real than “Horton Hears a Who,” that he could listen to his mother’s soothing voice retell night after night.
"Every time my mom tucked me into bed she told me that story. I know it pretty well, even though it is hard to explain in English," the Calgary Flames’ Swedish-born prospect began on Friday morning, "Because I asked her every time: ‘Mom, can you tell me that story?’ It is an inspiring story."
It’s a tale of a young lady named Teber Zeru who barely escaped the African nation of Eritrea, fleeing military forces from neighboring Ethiopia, which were waging war and killing Eritreans by the thousands. She ran from her home with her sister and a friend for a waiting car that would, hopefully, smuggle them over the border and on their way to a new life in Sweden, where a brother lived.
Somewhere between the house and the car, the young woman was shot in the arm.
"But she did not feel it, because her adrenalin was high, and she was running away. She came to the car of a friend who would smuggle them out. She saw blood on the floor and said, ‘Who is bleeding? Where is the blood coming from?’ Then she saw her arm, and she fainted," recalls Kylington (pronounced CHILL-ing-ton). "She almost died because she lost so much blood. But they got to a hospital and stopped the bleeding, and a month later she flew from Eritrea to Saudi Arabia. Then she flew from there to Italy, and then from Italy to my uncle in Sweden.
That woman was Kylington’s mother.
"Today my whole family is in Sweden. All the aunts and uncles — everyone."
Everyone but Kylington, who has arrived in North America to try his hand at a National Hockey League career. After three years playing pro in Sweden, Kylington can go to the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate in Stockton if he is assigned there. The Brandon Wheat Kings own his junior rights, however, and there are some who believe junior hockey would be a better fit.
Calgary picked him with the last pick in the second round (No. 60), after Kylington had garnered much first-round talk heading into the draft. He had rough season last year though, and his stock dropped.
What kind of defenceman do we have here?
"I try to be as mobile as possible," he said, listing the NHL players who have shaped his game. "Duncan Keith. Bobby Orr. I like to mix it up. My best part is in the offensive zone, so I like to handle the puck and make good plays. Sometimes score, make open passes to forwards. Erik Karlsson… I try to be a threat every time I have the puck in the offensive zone."
That works, as long as he’s not also a threat every time he has the puck in his own zone as well. That’s the area the Flames have targeted for improvement.
"He’s a young guy who needs to get strong. Offensively he has great instincts. Skates really, really well," began Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy, who then listed the deficiencies. "Even though his team is winning 2-1 with three minutes to go, he pinches. It’s just time and score. Instead of saying ‘I just want to go, go, go,’ you’ve got to pick your spots.
"But what I like is, when he does go he has high-end skills. You can’t teach that."
Kylington’s father, Borje, is his hockey rock. He is that hockey dad who has sculpted his son’s path, and will likely be in on the consultation regarding Stockton versus Brandon, where the Wheat Kings have a genuine Memorial Cup contender, as well as possible defence partner Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia’s seventh-overall pick in the June draft.
"He’s been very close, very (much) a hockey dad," said Kylington, who left the Flames first game at the Penticton Young Stars tournament with an undisclosed injury (listed day-to-day). "I want to thank him a lot … for always supporting me. Always pushing me in the right direction, and being there for me. We are very close. We have a good bond, and I like that."
Kylington also has a friend in Dallas Stars defenceman Johnny Oduya, who plays that stay-at-home game that Kylington must master if he is going to forge a career on a crowded Calgary blueline.
"I talked to him two days ago," he said of Oduya, a fellow Swedish defenceman of African descent. "He’s been a big part of my game. He’s more of a defenceman, so I try to learn as much as I can from him about the small details."
It’s a long journey from Stockholm to Calgary, but Kylington knows the story.
It is not nearly as perilous as the one his mother made two decades ago.