Johnson: Former Hitmen star Matt Kinch returns to Calgary to open up fitness studio The Sweat Lab
One of the top players in the history of the local Western Hockey League franchise played several years in Germany
Life, says Matt Kinch, was just fine in Germany.
His home was Ravensburg — the final stop of an 11-year, seven-league, two-continent pro hockey career — a lovely medieval town of 48,000 huddled in the Upper Swabia district of Southern Germany, all gates and towers and twisting streets, sitting in the shadow of the Alps to the southeast.
Munich, and Zurich are each an hour away by car.
Kinch spent three seasons there, in the second Bundesliga, anchoring the blueline for the Towerstars, one of the oldest clubs in Germany, playing at the 3,300-seat Eissporthalle Ravensburg.
“The game in Europe,” he says, “was more suited my style. Skating, moving the puck. And actually, I thought I could play over there for another three, four, five years. I do miss the game. Definitely.
“I think the biggest regret I have is not knowing at the time that I wouldn’t be back. I’d just signed a two-year deal and thought we would be going back. With family, though, it was the right time to retire and come home. My son was going into Grade 3 and the half-year in Germany, half-year in Calgary was catching up school-wise and it wasn’t really fair to him.
“Your life is so tied to hockey for so long. And there was an offer from another team over there to continue. But you sit down, discuss your options — do we play one or two more years or do we settle down — and make the right decision. We made the right decision.
“Then you’re looking for the next thing.”
That ‘next thing’ is The Sweat Lab, a 4,500-square-foot layout in Aspen Woods that offers spin, yoga and barre classes. Open a little more than a month, Kinch and his wife Raeanne have been joined in the venture by another Hitmen alumnus, right winger Brad Mehalko, and his wife Jennifer, along with Jeff Glass, a goaltender drafted by Ottawa in 2004 from the Kootenay Ice, and his wife Allie.
An all-Alberta project: Kinch hails from Red Deer, Mehalko from Enchant and Glass from Calgary.
The lone partner still active on the ice, Glass, is finishing up his Kontinental League season with CKSA Moscow.
“We started thinking about possibilities, my wife and I, after I finished,” says Kinch. “We’re good friends with Brad and Jenn, Jeff and Allie. We were just kinda kicking around ideas and felt there’s a lot of potential and growth development in something like this. So you agree on the project, then you have to decide where’s the space, what’s the thing going to be called. We went a couple times to L.A. to research places, trying to envision something different, a different look.
“We’re were after that kind of idea, a more upscale place, if you will. We have the amenities, I like to think we’ve taken care of the details but at the end of the day we know it’s the instruction that counts. It’s no different than hockey, you can have a good coach but if your players don’t play, then . . .”
Kinch spent five seasons in Hitmen livery (his final three seasons compiling 83, 75 and 84 points, respectively), and still ranks among the top defencemen in club annals. He was selected in the fifth round (146th overall) by the Buffalo Sabres at the 1999 NHL draft.
His only other foray into business was the hockey business, an off-season hockey school. “On a very small scale. The c ollaboration part of this has been really interesting. I think it helps the collaboration that we know each other, we’re friends.
“This is an interesting area. Seemed to be the right timing and the right place, business-wise. This is just being built, so we could come in and design the floor concept we wanted to rather than taking over an existing older place.
“Brad’s wife, Jennifer, is a designer. That helped a ton. She laid it out for us and presented us with a lot of options, and we picked and chose as a group. And it’s all come together.”
The numbers, financially, make sense.
“We’ve been very surprised. It’s been very good. You have to do the research. We have a good idea what our numbers should be. There are other parts of the business, retail and the like, but we’re trying to base it on the number of bodies coming in and coming out, where our break-even point is, how we increase the numbers and get better. That process has already begun.”
With hockey now behind him, Kinch can look back on his travels with a certain nostalgia.
“We got treated really well for the most part over there, in Europe. You do your homework and make sure you’re going to the right places. We had two of our kids over there. After junior, the idea is to play in the NHL. That was the goal. My goal. Everybody’s goal.
“I enjoyed European hockey, though. I really did. Especially towards the end of my career over here, playing in places like Worcester in front of 300 or 400 fans. You know you’re in the American League, probably not going to get the shot you’re longing for. So going over, it kind of rejuvenated me.
“The atmosphere there is fantastic. I don’t think people here can comprehend what a game is like — a soccer game in a hockey rink. The chanting, the singing, the flags, the fireworks.
“The NHL game has changed a lot since I started out pro. Maybe things would be different now for me over here. But that’s water under the bridge.
“I have new goals now.”
Out in Aspen Woods, at The Sweat Lab.
“Scary?” repeats Matt Kinch. “Yeah. A little. Absolutely. You’re not playing for somebody anymore. You’re working for yourself. It’s a business. You’ve got to meet your criteria and reach your targets and grow the product.
“But I think we’ve come up with the right idea, the right concept. It’s just a question of getting people in here to see what it’s all about.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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