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Kole Sherwood becomes first central Ohio product to play for Jackets

New Albany native making history with debut against Chicago

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

It was always bound to happen, it was just a matter of when. 

One day, a young man who grew up watching hockey in Nationwide Arena, growing up of dreaming of being the next Rick Nash or Fedor Tyutin, and who came up the ranks in the central Ohio junior programs was going to debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

And on that day, it would serve as the latest and greatest step for the central Ohio hockey community, which has worked hand-in-hand with the Blue Jackets to help develop the sport -- along with future NHL players -- in the Columbus area. 

Now we have an answer. 

Video: Kole Sherwood is set for his NHL debut

That day is Feb. 16, 2019. 

New Albany native and former Ohio AAA Blue Jacket Kole Sherwood will make his debut tonight for the Blue Jackets in Chicago, and in doing so will become the first central Ohio born and bred player to put on the union blue for an NHL regular-season game. 

"I can't really put it into words," Sherwood said before the game. "It's here. The moment is here. I'm not really trying to think too much about it, just play and have fun and take it all in."

POSTGAME: Sherwood looks back on debut

It's a dual victory -- one for the Sherwood family, which will see its second son make his NHL debut this season, and one for the hockey community that has made Columbus one of the hottest new areas in the country for turning out high-level talent. 

"It's extra special," said Ed Gingher, who oversees the AAA Blue Jackets program. "All those other guys, when they had their moments to play in their first NHL game, it's obviously incredibly special for them and their families, but this feels different. It feels different because it's home. 

"It's home for Kole and it's a big reason why he signed. He wanted to have that opportunity. He wanted to play for his hometown team. It's special." 

Indeed, Kole isn't the first central Ohio product to suit up in an NHL game -- in fact, he'll be playing against the first tonight in Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy, a first-round draft pick in 2011 who is now in his sixth season after making his debut in 2013. 

Others such as Murphy's fellow Dublin native Sean Kuraly (now a Boston Bruin), Columbus native Jack Roslovic (Winnipeg) and Kole's brother Kiefer, who debuted with Anaheim this year, have followed. But to see a player put on the Columbus sweater and serve as the first homegrown Blue Jacket is, as Gingher put it, a special accomplishment. 

"We're very very fortunate that we are a piece of this group," said Roger Sherwood, the Sherwoods' father. "It's really we're one big family, and everyone has the same goal and some are just reaching it a little quicker than the others. Everybody supports everybody, and it's great to see. It's just wonderful that everyone is so close and so supportive of each other. It's just exciting that it's all happening now."

Sherwood's journey has had its share of ups and downs. The two were introduced to hockey by their father, Roger, and began playing as kids. They were accomplished youth players but neither was drafted despite the fact both were recruited by top college programs.  

Their story went to another level when Kole and Kiefer were both invited to the Jackets' 2015 development camp and impressed. Shortly thereafter, Kole was offered an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets and signed. 

While Kiefer went on to play with Miami University, Kole chose to go the OHL route and starred with the London Knights, Flint Firebirds and Kitchener Rangers over the past three years, scoring 63 goals and 145 points in 117 games over his final two seasons. 

His pro debut this year got off to a bumpy start, as Sherwood was one of the odd men out early in the season with AHL Cleveland and even spent three games in the ECHL just to get him some games. But the 22-year-old has been on fire of late, scoring seven goals in the last 11 games for the Monsters. On the season, he has 11 goals and 14 points in 34 games with Cleveland. 

"I've been getting myself in a groove here," Sherwood said. "Just going to the net a lot, playing physical, keeping it simple. That's been working, so I want to keep it going."

Gingher said it's been fun to watch his Sherwood's development over the years. 

"It's crazy to think that probably five years ago where he's in the depths of the lineup with the U-16s," Gingher said. "I would call Kole a late bloomer. He was always an undersized player, but you knew he had skill and you knew he could skate. All of a sudden in the blink of an eye he's 6-1 and signing an NHL contract. 

"You always love kids that have his natural gifts, and Kole's is skating. And then his size came into play and now it's a matter of him maturing." 

It has also helped Kole to have a brother who also has made it to the highest level. The Sherwood brothers lived hockey as kids, from playing hockey in the Sherwood residence as much as they could to attending games in the nosebleed seats of Nationwide Arena. 

That dedication to the craft has continued to this day. 

"We talk about hockey almost every day and what we can do to improve, how we can go about it, our mind-set and all that," Kiefer said when he played in Columbus in December with the Anaheim Ducks. "It's cool we've experienced our first year of pro together. We definitely had our battles growing up, too, so we're close in age where we're still competitive. Hopefully I can be a good role model for him." 

Kole Sherwood is the first to play for the Blue Jackets, but all odds are he won't be the last. Now it has been proved that the support exists to develop NHL players, the pipeline should do nothing but grow. In addition to the AAA program, the hockey infrastructure keeps building, including the establishment of Cam Atkinson's Battery Hockey Academy.

"Seven, eight years I've been here, to see where youth hockey has come and the development of hockey in general -- the AAA program, NHL players making it and coming back and retiring there, it's a hockey state," said Atkinson, who has worked with the Sherwood brothers in the summer. "We're getting a lot of positive feedback and we're having success. The parents love it, the kids love, it, so hopefully it continues." 

Even right now, the 2006 birth year AAA Blue Jackets are in Canada taking part in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament, one of the top youth tournaments in the world. It's a tournament Kole Sherwood played in as a youngster, another example of just how hockey in Columbus has both come full circle and competes at the highest level. 

"It just adds a number of layers to the magnitude of what is happening in Columbus," Gingher said. "There's going to be a lot more great stories coming out of here, and we've been fortunate enough to have a handful that have made it to the highest level and realize their dreams." 

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