A constant hallmark of the Vancouver Giants’ tremendous 2018-19 Western Hockey League campaign was top-pair blue-liner Alex Kannok Leipert igniting offensive chances with his stellar defensive play.
The first Thai-born draft pick in NHL history – he was chosen in the sixth round last summer by the Washington Capitals – routinely outduels foes because of airtight positioning, fluid skating, smooth passing and dominance in the corners.
Kannok Leipert, 18, credits the Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HSCA) program at Martin Collegiate in Regina, Sask., for helping him evolve into the rearguard he is now – a minute-munching defenceman who helped the Giants reach Game 7 of the WHL Championship Series with 12 points in 22 playoff games.
He set himself up for a successful four years in the program by entering the school in 2014 with an objective to grow his game every day.
“Martin helped me achieve my goals because every second day [I] would be on the ice working on skills, and every other day [I] would be in the gym working on footwork, speed and things like that,” Kannok Leipert says.
He particularly credits the HCSA for refining his power and skating.
“It was huge for me to work on it all year long. It transferred tremendously to my skating and shot.”
The extra hockey instruction included in his every-day schooling led to great rewards.
In less than a year after enrolling at Martin Collegiate, the Giants drafted Kannok Leipert in the fourth round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.
Two seasons later, he was named the top defenceman in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, captained the Regina Pat Canadians to the semifinals of the TELUS Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship, and played his first eight WHL games.
Kim Perepeluk, Martin Collegiate’s HCSA program coordinator, says Kannok Leipert choosing to immerse himself entirely into the academy elevated his craft.
“He saw our program as a way from him to get better and make it to the next level and reach his potential,” Perepeluk says. “I think he appreciated that.”
It was comfortable for Kannok Leipert to be receptive to the mentorship because his trainers all played minor and junior hockey in the past. Martin Collegiate also attracted prestigious guest coaches such as Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Paul Coffey and Toronto Maple Leafs legend Wendel Clark.
His immersion went beyond hockey. He competed in track and field, volunteered in community outreach events and was vice-president of student council – a position he retained in the 2017-18 school year even when he was completing his first full WHL season in Vancouver.
He actively kept up with his studies and hockey teachings while navigating his rookie campaign.
A number of leadership opportunities came his way in his final year of school, which included working with the junior athletes.
“He’s a very good player, but he is also a leader on the ice, in the classroom and the dressing room,” Perepeluk says. “He’s certainly a young player that all of our younger athletes should aspire to be like.”
With a long playoff run done, Kannok Leipert already has his sights set on growing his leadership skills and on-ice abilities during the 2019-20 season.
He says the key for him securing a long-term future in the game will be combining the wisdom he has gained as a junior player with the lessons he learned during his four years as an HCSA student.