By Justin Skelnik | Photo contributions by Ross Dettman and Arturs Kulda
Chicago Wolves defenseman Arturs Kulda has been on the move since he was 15 years old.
Right before he celebrated his 16th birthday, Kulda left his hometown of Riga, Latvia, to play hockey for CSKA-2, a Russian junior team in Moscow. Two years later, he found himself in Peterborough, Ontario, playing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Petes. After two seasons in Peterborough, Kulda packed up once again and headed for Chicago, where he has remained since the spring of 2008.
Living in four countries in six years would be hard on any kid, but to do it alone, away from family and friends, is something Kulda admits was difficult and took a while to get used to.
“I left home right before I turned 16 and since then I have been living by myself, away from my family,” said Kulda. “I spent two years in Moscow, two years in Canada and now two years here in Chicago. It is a long time to be away from home. I remember it was hard, when I first got to Moscow and when I first got to Canada. Right now, I am kind of used to it.”
Even though the now 21-year-old has been away from home for all those years, he never has lost contact with everyone back in Latvia, which has helped his transition. The time difference makes it difficult to just pick up a phone and call home, so he uses the Internet to remain in contact with his friends and family.
“The Internet is a great tool for me,” he said. “You can’t always call or text, but the Internet is always there and is the easiest way to talk to people back home. When I have time, I will call my parents, but I am always talking to them online.”
His parents also use the Internet to watch him play. His mom wakes up in the middle of night every time the Wolves play to watch his games. His dad watches him play too, but does so for more than just enjoyment.
“I don’t think he has missed any games, going back to when I played in Russia,” said Kulda. “He knows me better than anyone else, so during games he is looking for things I can improve on. He gives me a lot of advice about hockey and about life, especially since I turned pro, so I try to take what he tells me and I try to work on that.”
Kulda admits that he wasn’t really comfortable on or off the ice during his first professional season last year, but is using it as a learning tool to help make him more at ease this season.
“Every day I am gaining more experience as a hockey player and as a person,” he said. “In hockey, I am getting more ice time this season compared to last year, and that is definitely helping me get better as a player.
“Off the ice, even living by myself is getting better. Last year, it was kind of like I didn’t know what to cook, I didn’t know what to do with my free time. This year I know what to do when I am not playing hockey. It is just getting easier each day.”
Wolves General Manager Wendell Young has noticed a big change in Kulda both as a player and a person this year. Young, who was behind the Wolves bench as an assistant coach last season, attributes those changes to Kulda’s character and work ethic.
“He has absolutely settled down since last season,” said Young. “The thing with young kids in the minors is that they all have to mature, not just on the ice, but off it as well and I think that they go hand-in-hand in the development of a player.
“With Kulda, he went through all of that and then some when you throw in the language barrier he faced. It was tough for him to get acclimated last year. This season, I have really seen him grow. Off the ice, I think he finally feels like he is just one of the guys. On it, I see him slowly working to become one of the leaders on the blue line and I think that attests to his character and the hard work he puts in every time he steps on the ice.”
His development as a defenseman also has been helped by the arrival of Chris Chelios. Since Chelios’ signing in October, Kulda has tried to soak up all the knowledge the 25-year National Hockey League veteran has to offer. It helps that Kulda and Chelios’ stalls are next to each other in the locker room at the Wolves practice facility in Hoffman Estates, where Kulda can learn from the future Hall-of-Famer even when they aren’t practicing.
“It’s pretty cool,” Kulda said with a smile. “He is so experienced and he sees everything and knows everything when we are on the ice together. He is always teaching me things and giving me advice on what I should do on certain plays and how to play in certain situations. He is really helping me as a player.”
Even though Kulda is having a solid sophomore campaign – as of press time he is leading the American Hockey League with a +29 plus/minus rating and is one point shy of matching his point total from last year - he knows that he is still developing and has room to grow everyday. He takes any advice he can get when it comes to hockey, whether it is from coaches, players, or his parents and works on those things in order to continue to get better.
“I still need to work on everything,” Kulda proclaimed. “There is never a thing that I can’t improve on as a player. We are human. You can never be perfect, so I just try to work on everything to be close to perfect.”
With Kulda’s play continuing to improve, it will only be a matter of time before he has to move yet again to another new city. But if it is for the opportunity to play in the NHL, he will gladly make the trek.
“If that happens, it happens,” said Kulda. “Right now, I am just enjoying my time here playing in Chicago and enjoying my time with the guys.”