Arber Xhekaj knew he had to work extra hard to make it to the OHL after going undrafted—that he did.
“I knew being undrafted, I had to stand out at the camp, so I took a lot of time off of going out and going on vacation to get better,” said Arber. “I trained for two hours in the morning, one hour on the ice and then I would go to my personal gym and put an extra hour in.”
This summer Arber was invited to training camps from teams all across the OHL, but the three he attended were Guelph, Hamilton and Kitchener.
“Kitchener was the one I wanted,” smiled Xhekaj. “Everything about it made me feel like I should be in Kitchener.”
Flash forward to mid-way through the camp and his feelings became a reality. General Manager, Mike McKenzie called Arber into a meeting and gave him the good news—he was going to play for the Kitchener Rangers.
“I was just so excited, I didn’t know what to say,” said Arber. “I texted my mom right away saying I made it and she was freaking out. I was in my head all summer, I had to make it, and I guess I did.”
Off the ice, Arber played soccer to work on his cardio and footwork while he was growing up. One summer he took on a hobby to work on his hand-eye coordination—squash.
“I love playing squash. I played it at a summer club,” smiled Arber. “I think it is important to play more than just hockey. It’s always hockey, hockey, hockey, and it can get tough. If you have other sports you can go to it can help.”
Another one of Arber’s hobbies keeps him occupied away from the rink and sports altogether.
“I’m really into cars and studying them. I work on my car a bit and add modifications,” said Arber. “I could see myself playing hockey and having a bunch of cars to fix up.”
None of Arber’s teammates have asked him to fix their cars yet, but maybe they will now. Sorry, Arber.
Speaking of teammates, Arber and his d-partner Donovan Sebrango have grown close and are making a name for themselves as the team’s rookie defensive pairing.
“I like playing with him it’s pretty cool that two rookies are a d-pairing,” smiled Arber. “We call ourselves the Bash Brothers. We are trying to get everyone to call us that, but it hasn’t caught on yet.”
Looking back on his life, Arber feels grateful for all the opportunities he has had. There were moments where Arber thought he wouldn’t make it or he wasn’t good enough, but two people in his life helped him see the real picture.
“People would always say you’re too small, or you’re too slow, but my mom and dad always knew I could make it and they always believed in me and pushed me to pursue my dreams,” smiled Arber. “I’m so grateful.”
Looking ahead to the future, Arber hopes to continue to play hockey and make a life out of it, but he didn’t always think that would be his reality.
“Never give up. If you don’t get drafted that doesn’t mean anything, you can still make it,” said Arber. “You just have to work harder every day, and things may work out.”