It’s rare to come across a hockey player with Hawaiian heritage.
It’s even more rare to find one as talented as Keoni Texeira, a 21-year-old defenseman for the Wichita Thunder and exactly the type of up-and-coming prospect that coach Malcolm Cameron wants playing for the Thunder.
Texeira wasn’t born in Hawaii (his father was), but he always took pride in his family’s heritage growing up in Fontana, Calif.
“There’s one rink down there on the big island and that’s it,” Texeira said of hockey in Hawaii. “I think there’s only one USA-registered hockey player from Hawaii, so it’s definitely awesome to be able to say with pride that my family is from Hawaii and to be one of the few Hawaiian hockey players out there.”
He fell in love with the sport at a young age. First, it was through roller hockey. His father and a neighbor used to play together and would bring Keoni along. He said he enjoyed being a hockey player in an area where kids were obsessed with football, basketball and soccer.
“It was something different and I was always really good for my age,” Texeira said. “I loved the speed of the game. It was so much fun scoring goals and it was just unique from football or basketball.”
Texeira soon became a highly-touted prospect. He started his junior career at 16 with the Portland Winterhawks and was ranked as a top-150 prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service as a 17-year-old ahead of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Last summer, the Vegas Golden Knights invited him to a summer development camp, and he earned a spot in the team’s main camp last September.
Now that Texeira is a pro in Wichita, Cameron believes it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Texeira moves on.
“He could be a really effective power-play player, a point producer, a puck-mover,” Cameron said. “His offensive instincts, his vision, they’re both outstanding. And he’s a student of the game. He listens, he asks questions, he’s a sponge. He wants to get better away from the puck, and I’m really excited about where he’ll be at Christmas-time.”
Texeira said the transition to being a professional was eased by his experience with Vegas last summer.
“I was able to learn what it takes to be a pro every day,” Texeira said. “I learned how to take care of my body and make sure to prepare for practices. It’s just a lot of preparation and recovery. It was a really good experience and it felt good to know that they obviously saw something in me to take me that far.”
Now it’s about playing well enough to convince a team to take a chance on him at the next level.
The Thunder (3-1-1-0) next plays this Friday at Kansas City before returning for a four-game homestand starting Sunday at Intrust Bank Arena with a 4 p.m. game against Utah.
Texeira may not have a traditional background for a hockey player, but he certainly looks the part with his front right tooth missing.
“When I was 16, I always thought it would be cool to loose a tooth,” Texeira said, laughing. “Then when it happened, it turns out it’s not that cool. I got it fixed but it got knocked out again last year. It’s a pain in the butt to fix, so I think I’m just going to leave it for now until hockey is done and then I’ll get it fixed.”