Over the past couple weeks, several National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-1 schools have been hounding Battlefords North Stars defenceman Levi Kleiboer, trying to convince him to join their program.
It's really no surprise, considering the Martensville native has 24 points in 21 games this season from the backend, the third-highest points-per-game in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League among defencemen.
But the interest began with one school in particular: the University of Maine, who approached Kleiboer at the SJHL showcase in late September.
The two parties kept in touch ever since, and in the end, that's the school Kleiboer felt was the best fit, as he announced on Wednesday afternoon that he will suit up for the Black Bears next season.
That means he will forgo his final season of junior hockey.
"They talked to me for about a week straight, that was about three weeks ago, and then two weeks ago they offered it," Kleiboer said after practice on Thursday. "They wanted to get it done before Canada West [try-outs] and it was good for me to get it off my plate.
"They were the only team where two coaches called me in one day and they had alumni call me and just tell me about the place. They basically told me where to fit in."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Kleiboer was told he would be a power play specialist for the Black Bears, who play in the Hockey East conference with 10 other teams, including Boston College and Boston University. The Black Bears have a 5-7 record so far this season.
For the North Stars, Kleiboer already has 12 power play assists in 21 games. He runs the first unit from the top of the umbrella, consistently feeding top scorers Layne Young and MacGregor Sinclair, who play on either side of him.
North Stars head coach Brandon Heck said Kleiboer's poise with the puck stood out when Maine saw him, not just at the showcase, but also at a home game earlier this season.
"They've been looking for someone who can run a power play and provide offence, and Levi should be able to do that," Heck said. "Maine was interested in him for a while too, I think that's what Levi liked about Maine. They were interested before [others] and they came up to see him and met his parents and showed a lot of interest in him. So it's nice to go to a place where you're wanted, right from the start."
Kleiboer will be dearly missed on the North Stars blueline next season.
He said it made sense to leave early because he's eager to start the next chapter in his life.
"I'm kind of ready to get my life on the go and get school going," he said. "Right now, it's looking like [I'll study] business."
Teammate Cody Spagrud, who has been paired with Kleiboer at times this season, said he was not at all surprised to learn of the commitment.
"He deserves it," Spagrud said. "He works hard every day. He's put in the effort and it paid off for him.
"He likes to jump up a lot and he's also always open for me. He's always in position. He plays a great game so he's easy to play with."
Kleiboer said his goal for the summer is to "definitely" put on some weight.
"Got to hit the gym hard," he said. "Get a nutritionist and do that stuff. That's basically my [biggest] thing: strength."
With Kleiboer and Sinclair both committing to Div-1 schools this week, coach Heck said it's a good sign for the North Stars program because it shows that collegiate programs trust in how they develop players.
But he also said it's huge because it provides an example of what younger North Stars can strive for.
"It shows our young guys that when you work hard in the summer and have a goal and you're dedicated to your passion, that good things are going to happen," Heck said. "So it's a good lesson for some of our players that are hoping to achieve a scholarship."
Kleiboer also added that he won't be the last North Star to commit to a collegiate program.
"For sure other guys will commit," he said. "For sure."
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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