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For Kuraly, Series is A Homecoming

B's spark plug hails from Ohio, was influenced by founding of Blue Jackets

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins / BostonBruins.com

BOSTON - Sean Kuraly would like nothing more than to disappoint the state of Ohio over the coming days. It is not a goal he is used to taking up.

In fact, for the majority of his life it has been quite the opposite.

Kuraly grew up in Dublin and has long been a proud son of the Buckeye State, but the 26-year-old's career path has put him at odds with his fellow Ohioans of late.

Now a crucial piece of the Bruins' bottom six, Kuraly's objective is to help the Black & Gold send his hometown Columbus Blue Jackets on to their summer vacations.

"I think it will be fun. But it's an important playoff game," said Kuraly, who returns home this week as the Bruins travel to Ohio for Games 3 and 4 of their second-round series with the Blue Jackets.

"Luckily, I've got a lot of friends and family that were there during the regular season and kind of got that out of the way. Now it's all business."

It is certainly a strange dynamic for Kuraly, who grew up playing for the Tier 1 Ohio AAA Blue Jackets and later went on to star for four years at Miami of Ohio, where he was named the NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year and a member of the league's Academic All-Conference Team following his senior season in 2016.

Kuraly admits that he probably would have taken up hockey regardless of his surroundings, given that hockey in his blood - Kuraly's father, Rick, is Miami's all-time leading goal scorer and settled in the area following his playing days.

But the emergence of the Blue Jackets, who were founded in 2000, made a profound impact on the growth of the sport across central Ohio and no doubt made it easier for Kuraly - and so many others - to develop.

"It was huge. I think personally I was probably going to play hockey regardless…but it's huge," said Kuraly, who scored the crucial third goal during the third period of the Bruins' Game 7 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs last week.

"I was at games from the day they played their first game until the day I left to play hockey [for the Indiana Ice of the USHL] when I was 17 or whatever. It was huge. I grew up with guys like Rick Nash. It was always a dream of mine to play."

If the Blue Jackets had not entered the National Hockey League at the start of the new millennium, Kuraly, then just seven years old, reckons he would have had to travel hundreds of miles to play at an elite level.

"Detroit, Cleveland [in the AHL], Pittsburgh [were] a little bit ahead of us just because they had a team," said Kuraly, who is one of three AAA Blue Jackets alums (Connor Murphy and Trent Vogelhuber) to be drafted by an NHL franchise. "Probably wouldn't have made it as easy and I definitely wouldn't have had the resources I had in Columbus without the NHL team."

While the Blue Jackets - in the second round for the first time in franchise history - struggled through their early years, missing the playoffs in each of their first seven seasons, their presence was more than enough to get people excited about the sport of hockey in an area of the country that is considered a football hotbed.

"It was disappointing, but it didn't stop us from going to games as much as we could and me being a huge fan and really dreaming about being an NHL player," said Kuraly. "It definitely started at the rinks in Columbus."

Video: Kuraly breaks down his Game 7 goal against Toronto

Those rinks in Columbus were called "Chillers" and began to pop up in the years after the Blue Jackets arrival. Owned by the team, the rinks and recreation centers - five in total, spanning Columbus, Dublin, Worthington, and Lewis Center - provided hockey players a golden opportunity, as more and more youth leagues and skating classes became available.  

The Blue Jackets also had stars like Nash and Jody Shelley visit the rinks from time to time to help generate more excitement about the team and the sport.

"The list goes on and on, all those guys would be at the Chillers. That was the highlight to [see] those kinds of guys," said Kuraly, who played briefly with Nash during his tenure with the Bruins last season. "More chillers popped up around the city as we got older. It just made it easier and easier every year to be competitive and play in Columbus. It was backed [in a big way] by the Blue Jackets.

"The interest that that garnered from kids around the city kind of legitimized playing hockey in Columbus, which was usually a football city. When you say you play hockey, people kind of have an idea that the Blue Jackets are the highest level."

A lot of those people are Kuraly's friends and family. And - just for this week - he hopes they adjust their allegiances.

"They're Bruins fans right now," Kuraly said of his family. "Some of my friends…I don't know if they really made the jump. They'll be hearing about that this summer. That's for another day."

Video: Ohio native Kuraly set to return home with B's

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