The Blue Jackets Hockey School mite group had a surprise visit from two hockey players during Thursday's session.
Sean Kuraly and Connor Murphy stopped by Chiller North to speak with the 7 and 8-year-olds about their own personal experience as youth hockey players. Kuraly and Murphy were both selected in the 2011 NHL Draft (Kuraly by the San Jose Sharks and Murphy by the Phoenix Coyotes), but they have a lot more in common than that.
Kuraly and Murphy grew up in Dublin, Ohio. They are both sons of former NHL defensemen. The two also played for the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets team. They both committed to Miami (Ohio) to play hockey, though Kuraly is the only one of the two who currently plays there because Murphy elected to play for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.
Most recently, they both represented Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia and brought gold medals back to central Ohio.
“It was an awesome experience," said Murphy of the World Junior. "It was always a goal and dream of mine as a kid to be able to play at it because it's the biggest tournament for players under age 20 in the world. There are so many great players who go - I remember Sidney Crosby being in it - and I just wanted to follow in those guys’ footsteps."
Now, Murphy and Kuraly are two of those players that youth hockey players are looking up to and wanting to follow. The Hockey School students listened to them and asked about playing in the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets program, a hockey program several of the students want to be part of themselves one day because it is one of the elite youth hockey programs in the state of Ohio.
Kuraly said that thanks to the Blue Jackets and the various hockey programs throughout Ohio (including an AHL team in Cleveland and ECHL club in Cincinnati), youth hockey has taken off over the past several years.
“Youth hockey around here has grown a ton," said Kuraly. "I’ve been here basically since the Blue Jackets moved in and obviously their influence has been very large. There are way more kids playing now, and seeing the Blue Jackets all the time on TV and being able to go to games definitely helps.”
Murphy said that the access to and availability of different options for youth hockey players in Ohio has helped the sport take root in the state.
"There are so many different teams and levels to play for, as well as different ways to challenge yourself and a lot of great competition within the area," said Murphy. "You don't have to travel too far to play some good talent. It's been great to see that grow up and develop and I'm happy it's still building."
Kuraly and Murphy had a great time skating around with the kids and talking with them one-on-one during autograph sessions. The two could tell that the Hockey School students were having fun out on the ice.
"It’s awesome for us to come out here and do this," said Kuraly. "We told them about our experiences and tried to give them the confidence that if they’re here, they’re on the right path. I told them that I was at this hockey school when I was younger and that they can do big things too. It’s not just pros that can do it.”
"It’s great to see their excitement," he said. "Some of them were telling me that they just started playing hockey and that they don't know their positions yet. This one of the most fun times, when they just go out there and have a blast doing fun drills to influence their interest in the game. There’s a great turnout here and it's awesome to see.”
The mite and mini mite age groups wrap up camp Fri, Aug. 2. Next week begins squirt and peewee sessions for kids ages 9 to 12. For more information about the Blue Jackets Hockey School, click here.