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Family the focus at NHL Combine

by Mitchell Clinton (@MClinton007) / Winnipeg Jets

BUFFALO, New York – The script almost never changes.

A young prospect’s name is called from the podium at the NHL Draft, the in-arena music begins, the cameras find the lucky young man in the seats, and the first people he hugs are family members
and close friends.

Tyson Jost can’t wait for that moment. For him, it’s not a movie script. It’s a chance to pay back the woman who gave so much for him to get there.

“It will be pretty special when I have (my mom) in the stands for the draft,” said Jost at the conclusion of his NHL Combine week. “She’s a pretty special lady. Single mom, raised me and my sister all by herself. If I have to thank one person, I think it would be her.

“She gave me a lot of qualities that I see myself in her…I love talking about her just because of all the hard work and sacrifice she’s given my sister and I. Hopefully one day I can repay her.”

Jost, who wore the captain’s ‘C’ for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees this season, said his mom, Laura, sacrificed a lot so he and his younger sister, Kacey, could succeed.

“I saw her work for everything she wants. That’s what she taught me in life. If you want something you’re going to have to work for it,” said Jost. “A lot of my qualities come from her and the person she is.”

Even after the exhaustive day of fitness testing -- four lower-body tests (long jump, force plate, pro agility and Y-balance), two upper-body exercises (bench press and pull ups), and the rigorous 30-second Wingate sprint -- each prospect seemed to fill with energy when speaking of
family.

Kieffer Bellows relied on the advice of his father Brian, who played just under 1,200 games in the NHL.

“My dad has meant everything to me through my career. He’s the guy that got me started in the game of hockey, and he’s the guy that supports me,” said Bellows. “You only get to do this once in a lifetime for the Draft. It’s something that my Dad told me you just have to have fun with it
because everything is going to be coming really fast to you now.

“You have the draft coming up, then you’ll have to go to school, just live up the moment with your teammates and future players.”

Bellows potted 24 goals and 40 points with the U.S. National U-18 Team, and won the USHL’s rookie of the year award in 2014-15. The bonus of this year’s Combine for Bellows is the chance to hang
out with friends he’s made throughout his hockey career.

“I hang out with (Dante) Fabbro, Jost, (Jakob) Chychrun, and (Logan) Brown,” he said. “All those guys are really good friends to me.”

Chychrun’s hockey background begins in Boca Raton, Florida, even though it was Canada that the 6-foot-2, 198-pound blueliner suited up for at this year’s IIHF Under-18 tournament in Grand Forks, ND.

Jakob’s father, Jeff, played 262 games in the NHL, and it was his influence, along with other former NHLers that developed Jakob’s love of the game.

“Guys like my dad, Peter Worrell, Tomas Vokoun, Radek Dvorak, there’s a whole bunch of ex-NHLers down there coaching,” said Chychrun. “(My dad) was never a high intensity coach. He wasn’t going to yell at the kids. He wanted us to just show up to the rink, work hard, and most importantly have fun. I think that helped me fall in love with the game, and that’s why I have a passion for it today.”

Also walking the line of coach and father was Eric Dubois. Originally a draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1989, Dubois never played an NHL game, but did play in Germany. That’s where his son -- and top-ranked North American skater – Pierre-Luc, learned the game.

“I lived three years in Germany. I remember a little bit,” the younger Dubois said. “He was a huge influence on my career. He still is right now. I call him after every game. We talk about my game and everything.”

They likely had a lot to talk about. Dubois shot up the NHL Central Scouting rankings this season. At the halfway mark, he held down the seventh spot. Come April, his name was at the top of the list, thanks to a 99-point season with Cape Breton in the QMJHL.

Just one spot below on Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters is Matthew Tkachuk. And with that last name, hockey fans in Winnipeg will be happy to know that former Jet, Keith, played a big role in his son’s hockey career.

“Whenever we’re talking about hockey, it’s always compete and be a good teammate,” Tkachuk said about the advice his dad gave him.

But that’s not the only family connection Tkachuk has to the NHL. The Memorial Cup champion is also cousins with Kevin (New York Rangers) and Jimmy Hayes (Boston Bruins).

“Our parents hung out all the time when we were younger,” said Tkachuk. “Whenever we go back to Boston, we always see them.”

Now, as the final NHL sanctioned event before the NHL Draft comes to a close, the focus of these young players shifts to June 24-25. For some, like Tkachuk, a bit of rest is in order. With the Memorial Cup wrapping up only six days ago, Tkachuk’s ankle injury needs time to heal.

For others, it’s back to training, and preparing to give which ever teams calls their name all they’ve got in camp.

And for Yost, the countdown to that special night when his mom finally gets to see him drafted continues to tick down.

“I matured at a younger age because of the situation I was in. My mom made it so easy for me and my sister to succeed,” he said. “That’s something that’s just so special about our family. They’re really important to me.”

Only 20 days to go.

– Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com

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