For every young hockey player, the dream is to play junior hockey, then college hockey, then professional hockey.
Keaton Leininger has now achieved two of those things. The North Dakota native spent his high school days in his home state. After playing nine games in the NAHL, Leininger moved to the MJHL to play with the Portage Terriers.
He tenure didn't last long in Portage though, as he became a Dauphin King in the 2015-16 season. He went on to record 11 points in 37 games. The next season Keaton was stellar. He had 47 points in 59 games for the Kings who were going through the rebuilding process.
Although the team struggled while Keaton was here, he has nothing but good things to say about his time right here in Dauphin.
"I loved every minute of it honestly," said Leininger. "I was treated very well by the whole community and the team as well. It was a great experience and I also had an amazing billet family."
Let's face it. Billet families make a huge impact in the community and on the player(s) they provide a home for. From feeding the players to spending time with them and everything in between.
During his time in Dauphin, Keaton stayed with Ashley and Jason Shaw. To this day, Keaton remembers the couple years in their home as the "Golden Days".
"It was something special that's for sure," said Leininger. "I got to join the family at birthdays, parties and that sort of thing. There would always be a hockey game going on in the basement. They had two little kids and I was always breaking them up when they were play fighting and what not. I picked up two little brothers for two years."
"Since being in Dauphin, I've been down to see them and they've come up to see me," he added. "Our relationship will last a lifetime and it was such a great time at the Shaw's. They really were an extension of my family."
When Keaton looks back at his time in Dauphin, it wasn't necessarily what happened on the ice that he remembers most fondly.
"I think you'll hear this from a lot of guys who are done playing junior now, but you don't really remember the hockey," said Leininger. "You remember the days with the guys and all the special people. Of course, Ukranian Night was pretty incredible."
Eventually, just like any junior hockey player, your time playing at this level must come to an end. Just because his time in Dauphin ended, it doesn't mean his hockey career was over. The now 22-year-old went to play for SUNY-Plattsburgh (NCAA Division 3). After playing seven games there, Keaton switched it up. He's now playing with Concordia College (NCAA Division 3).
"We're off to a pretty good start here at 3-1," said Leininger. "We're on the road this weekend and I think things are looking pretty good going forward."
"It really is something special to get the chance to play competitive hockey still," he added. "So many of my friends had to hang up the skates. I get to play the game I love every day, it's great."
The team's four games have not been conference ones. When those get underway, Keaton has some big expectations for himself.
"That's really when things start ramping up for the team, and things become more real," said Leininger. "I'm expecting a lot out of myself this season. We'll see how things go."