He may have got a late start in the game, but Zimbabwe-born Rashaad Eichenberg is making up for lost time and making an impact with the Thunder Bay Kings
Gary Moskalyk

Rashaad Eichenberg has some catching up to do. Unlike his Canadian counterparts, Zimbabwe-born Rashaad didn’t join a hockey team until he was nine years old. From his January mid-season addition to the U13 A KC Devils in 2016, to his rise to the U15 AAA Thunder Bay Kings last season, he has used his athleticism and drive to make great strides as a hockey player. And he’s got jets. “His speed – if you haven’t seen him, he’s one of the fastest players for his age bracket in the province,” says his Kings head coach, Matt Simeoni. “He’s a multi-talented athlete. He’s good at track. He’ll learn the game. Incredible speed. Good size and strength, too.” Rashaad’s family moved from Harare, Zimbabwe, to London, England, when he was three. He was introduced to skating there. “My dad (Dave), he used to be a goalie, so was my grandfather. Him and his brothers played hockey in Newfoundland,” he says. “I think one day he took me skating. I learned how to skate at the age of four. I skated like a penguin. He showed me some strides. I think that’s where I got my skating ability from, to be honest.” The family moved again just shy of Rashaad’s sixth birthday. “After England we moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, because of my husband’s work,” said Rashaad’s mother, Moira. “He works in mining. After that, we moved to Thunder Bay. We knew we would end up settling in Canada. Rashaad was almost nine. That was when Rashaad started playing hockey.” Rashaad first registered in December 2016. Kevin Kozar, current president of KC Minor Hockey, offered him a roster spot. “There was a lot of offsides and learning and stuff like that,” Moira says of those early days. Rashaad didn’t crack AA the next season. Disappointment. Devastation. But a fire was lit that burns to this day. “Didn’t make it. I was pretty upset about that,” he says. “My friends at school talked about making AA and stuff like that. I got a little sad about that. My mom made me realize I could do anything if I put the work in.” Rashaad isn’t just about hockey. He plays soccer for the Thunder Bay Chill and runs track for St. Patrick High School, specializing in the 100 metres and 200 metres, aerobic that activities dovetail nicely into hockey fitness. “Sometimes, late at night, I realize I’m getting older. I say to myself, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I’ve stuck to it to this day,” Rashaad says. “I do a lot of off-ice stuff. I’ve started using my athleticism to my advantage, using my skating ability to my advantage. Develop a shot, stick-handling, stuff like that… My coaches figure once I get going I can’t stop,” laughs the 14-year-old. After two years in A hockey, Rashaad joined the AA ranks. ‘When you go to the tryouts, make sure you are ready and make sure you stand out,’ is the advice Moira gave her son. The formula worked. Ex-Lakehead University Thunderwolf Joel Scherban was Rashaad’s first AA coach. “Joel was always shouting Rashaad’s name, pushing him; that was really exciting and very nice,” Moira says. “He sowed that spark in him, that speed. At the end of the year, he was one of the top players.” Ironically, Scherban was drafted in the seventh round of 1998 NHL Draft by Rashaad’s favourite team – the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby is his favourite player (although Connor McDavid is about to usurp The Kid). A pair of Stanley Cup wins in Rashaad’s first Canadian years sealed the deal. Rashaad made the U15 AA team in the 2019-20 season, but COVID-19 struck. This summer, Rashaad tried out for the Kings. “From August 29 to September 3 were the Kings’ tryouts. After that I got a call, saw my name on the list for the Kings. That was probably one of my happiest days.” says Rashaad. “Parents, siblings (Evan and Giselle) were all happy. Mom was right happy, too. She was crying. She knew how much work I put in.” The Kings organization joined the Greater Toronto Hockey League this season, opening up a whole new level of competition. “Incredible. You probably have to see it to believe it,” Simeoni says of the calibre of play in the Toronto area. The Kings have played 10 GTHL games so far this season, registering two wins and four ties. Across all games, Rashaad has posted six goals and five assists in 27 contests. “There are no nights off. If you don’t show up, you lose. I’m so impressed with the calibre of the teams,” Simeoni continues. “Tons of scouts out there. I think it’ll help the kids in a couple of ways. One, consistency. Two, exposure. At the U15 level, you’ve got every player in the province playing on those teams. To be able to compete against those teams is rewarding. It shows we’re doing the right things up here.” Rashaad hopes to get drafted to the Ontario Hockey League, following a few of his friends. He is also hoping to follow in the footsteps of Quinton Byfield, a former No. 1 pick in the OHL draft who was taken second overall by Los Angeles in the 2020 NHL Draft as the highest-drafted Black player ever. He’s one of the players Rashaad admires.