(Article Courtesy Marty Martinson/BattlefordsNow.com)
It has been a season out of a fairytale for Battlefords North Stars forward Steven Kesslering; chasing a 40-goal regular season with another 14 goals in 13 games of the playoffs, en route to earning SJHL Playoff MVP.
Now, just a week out from a run at Nationals, the product of Viceroy, SK., has announced his commitment to the Niagara University Purple Eagles Division I NCAA hockey program for the fall of 2023.
Kesslering said he’s looking forward to the opportunity ahead, to take his game to the next level with Niagara.
“I’m super excited for it, and that was always the goal coming into Junior hockey, so now to be given the opportunity to continue to play hockey at the next level, I’m just looking forward to it,” he said with an audible smile. “It’s in a beautiful location and they play in a good conference in [the] NCAA, and it seems like a really good school.”
The longest-tenured North Stars player, this season marked Kesslering’s fourth with the team, since first breaking in with the club full-time back in the 2019-20 season, as a 17-year-old.
Leading all Stars’ rookies in scoring with 15 points in 43 games to earn Rookie of the Year honours at the team’s year-end awards banquet, Kesslering then exploded for 46 points in 58 games in ’21-22, following the season lost to the pandemic.
This year as a 20-year-old, and assistant captain with the team, Kesslering continued his exponential growth into a bonafide superstar at the Junior level, finishing second in the entire SJHL in goals (40), and fourth in points (69) in just 54 games.
Drafted by the North Stars in the third round of the SJHL Bantam Draft back in 2017, head coach and general manager of the Stars, Brayden Klimosko said he couldn’t be happier for Kesslering, having seen first-hand his drive to get better each season.
“He’s progressed nicely from 17-year-old kid to 20-year-old man,” Klimosko said of #24, reflecting on his progression over his time with the team. “The work he’s put in the last four years has really shown, and he always competes hard. He’s put in a lot of work in the gym and he’s put on probably about 15-20 pounds because of it. The work he’s put in has really paid huge dividends for him.”
“Kess has earned everything he’s got and has worked hard for it; he’s going to do well at Niagara and I’m excited for him.” – Stars’ head coach Brayden Klimosko
Kesslering’s insatiable desire to be the best he can be saw the forward not only named to represent the league for the annual SJHL/MJHL Showcase in late-January, but also take home Player of the Game honours for his team’s opening win at the tournament, picking up a pair of goals while providing a force physically.
Down the stretch of the season, Kesslering continued to take off, ultimately earning the SJHL’s Player of the Month honours for both March and April.
Over his last 25 games of the regular season, since the start of the new year, Kesslering scored 25 goals and 40 points to average 1.0 goals and 1.6 points per game.
In the playoffs, the lethal speedster then added another 14 goals and 18 points in 13 games, with at least a single goal in nine of the team’s 13 games total, and five in four games of the finals, to lead the Stars to their four-game sweep of the rival Bombers to clinch the championship.
More than just the raw totals, however, Kesslering’s explosive stride and dogged determination on the forecheck set the tone for the Stars’ identity all season as a team that was unrelenting in their pressure and pace for the full 60 minutes.
His commitment to playing all 200 feet of the ice also saw him continue to grow in his role from previous seasons as one of the Stars’ go-to penalty killers, out there often for the biggest shorthanded tasks with the game at stake, alongside team captain Jake Southgate.
Klimosko said his powerful stride and physical nature in addition to his scoring touch around the net, should make him a valuable piece for the University of Niagara as soon as the fall.
“He definitely can skate at that level, and he’s physical too, so no matter what he’ll be able to play up and down the lineup there,” Klimosko said. “He obviously thinks the game well and can score goals, but the physical side of things as well and the way he can check is only going to benefit him too at that next level.”
Niagara University is located in Lewiston, New York. Niagara finished the 2022-23 season sixth in the Atlantic Hockey Standings with a 19-18-3 record.
Kesslering and his North Stars’ teammates will cap their 2022-23 season competing for a National Championship at the Centennial Cup in Portage, MB., May 11-21.