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Crosby Hockey School Campers Living in Japan Have Pens Connection

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Brian McKenzie's grandchildren, 10-year-old twins Jake and Morgan Carter, were campers at Sidney Crosby's Hockey School this past week.

Chris and Sarah Carter brought their 10-year-old twin son and daughter, Jake and Morgan, all the way from Tokyo to participate in the first-ever Sidney Crosby Hockey School this past week in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

He’s originally from Philadelphia while she was born and raised in Canada, and hockey is a sport that’s very close to her. As it happens, Sarah’s father is Brian McKenzie, who was the Pens’ first choice (second round; 18th overall) in the 1971 NHL Draft – the same year that Hockey Hall of Famers Guy LaFleur and Marcel Dionne went first and second overall, respectively.

McKenzie played three years of Junior A hockey with his hometown St. Catharines Black Hawks alongside Dionne, who currently ranks fourth in NHL history with 731 goals and sixth with 1,771 points. McKenzie also played one season with Dave Burrows, who would go on to become one of the most dependable defensive defensemen in Pens history and a two-time NHL All-Star.

“My first year of junior was Davey’s last, and we called him Dad because we were only 17 and Dave was 20,” McKenzie laughed.

After finishing second in team scoring behind Dionne with 124 points (39G-85A), McKenzie joined Burrows in Pittsburgh after the Penguins selected him in the draft.

“I was the first draft choice but when I went to training camp I didn’t have a contract," McKenzie said. "You just went and you were happy to be there. At the end of the camp, that’s when they’d bring out a contract for you. (Former Pens GM) Jack Riley drafted me. Tad Potter was the owner. I was looking the other day because the grandkids are here and I was showing them pictures from me at the draft with big red sideburns, a fuchsia tie (laughs). It was in Montreal. I’ll never forget it."

McKenzie transitioned to the pros that fall, and while he spent the majority of the season with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, the forward ended up playing six total games with the Pens.

The following year, he filled in on what would be the future Century Line during the preseason before heading back to the minors, and after another season there McKenzie opted to join the World Hockey Association.

“My second year I played with Syl Apps and Jean Pronovost all through training camp and that was a dream,” McKenzie said. “Those two guys were awesome hockey players. Jean Pronovost was a real quiet, nice fellow. I actually stayed with Syl the second time I got called up. Great guys.

"It didn’t work out for me, but I ticked every box. I scored a goal in my second game; I got four minutes for roughing six games in (laughs) and I got an assist.”

With Brian being a professional hockey player and his wife and daughter both professional figure skaters, ice is in Sarah’s blood. So even as the family has moved all over the world for Chris’ job – the twins, who are the youngest of seven children, were born in London and have also lived in Russia – she’s made sure they’ve found rinks to skate on, no matter how scarce they are.

“We started skating when we were 3, then our mom – because our grandpa is a hockey player – she wanted us to skate,” Morgan said.

“I always say to them, you hold Canadian passports so we will skate no matter where we are,” Sarah joked.

And while Sarah said hockey is growing in Asia, arenas are still very spread out in Japan. There are more in the northern part of the country, but not as many in the city, where the Carter family resides (plus many of those are privately owned, which makes it difficult to get any ice time).

So they drive the twins an hour and a half to get to the rink they play in now, for a team called the Higashi Yamato Whito Bearsu (which translates to Polar Bears).

“It’s culturally so different because bowing is part of the etiquette,” Sarah explained. “Before you begin to play, you bow to the opposing teams’ coaches, you bow to the ref, when you finish, you bow to each other, you bow to the audience. There’s about five different bows. So they’re all in a line and they bow.”

“Bowing is actually a really neat demonstration of respect and sportsmanship that would be wonderful to see in North American hockey,” Chris added.

The one aspect of playing in Japan that’s been somewhat of a struggle is the language barrier.

“Everything for the kids when they play is Japanese,” Sarah said. “When we go to tournaments, everything from the announcements to the refs to everything is all in Japanese. I have a lot of respect for Morgan and Jake going out there.”

The Carters come back to North America each summer to visit family, and the twins attend a few camps while they’re here so that they can experience getting instructions in English. When Sarah reached out to her father – who now lives in Nova Scotia and owns a driving range down the street from Cole Harbour Place – for help finding one in his area, he had just the recommendation.

“He said, you’ll never guess. On the news tonight it said Sid is doing a camp,” Sarah said. “They’re only taking so many kids, you have to apply, but you should get on that.”

They did as soon as the application became available, and encouraged other families on the Polar Bears to look into it as well. One mother did, and her son – 12-year-old Kosei Santoh – got accepted into the camp along with Morgan and Jake.

“They send their kids overseas for educational camps, and now we’re trying to say, ‘Hey, you should come do (hockey camps) too,’” Sarah said. “Now I have Kosei’s mom as an ambassador to say, ‘it works!’ It’s been an amazing week for sure.”

While the twins were convinced they were given spots in the camp because of McKenzie’s Penguins connection, he thinks otherwise.

“The twins had to write a letter for camp and they said Grampy, we said our grandfather played for Pittsburgh,” McKenzie said. “Then when they got in the camp, they said Grampy, I think because we said you played for Pittsburgh that we got in! I said Morgan, I lean more towards you’re from Tokyo as the reason you got in (laughs).”

Kosei, who attends international school with Morgan and Jake in Tokyo and speaks fluent English, said he got started in the sport through his father.

“My dad was a hockey player, but he just played for high school and then he quit. So he wanted me to play,” Kosei explained. “Only a few people play, but there’s places to play.”

All the way on the other side of the world, the three kids have a shared love for Crosby. Kosei’s favorite part of his camp experience – his first in North America – was meeting the Penguins captain.

Though he can’t watch Penguins games at home since they’re not broadcasted in Tokyo (plus there’s a 12-hour time difference!) he uses the Internet to look at videos of his hockey idol.

“I watch clips on YouTube, so they’re from a little bit later,” Kosei said.

“So sometimes I’m watching 2010 videos. He’s really good at playing hockey and he has good leadership.”

And even though the Carter kids grew up Flyers fans since Chris is from Philadelphia, they’ve always adored Crosby.

“Whenever we come back in the summer, there’s a vibe,” Sarah said. “There’s a wholehearted Sid vibe that just permeates every part of being back here. The closeness that he actually has to the community here is incredible. That’s a testament to how good he is, to make himself that player because there are those athletes who don’t want any part of that.”

And they can’t say enough about the camp itself.

“The organization out here is phenomenal,” Chris said. “It is so well planned and so well executed. The only way we really get hockey is through hockey camps, so we’ve seen a lot of them, and I’ve never seen anything this well-organized.”

While they’re grateful for their experience here, Crosby is thankful to have kids from so far away want to travel across the world to be a part of his camp.

“That’s part of the experience,” he said. “I think back to the hockey schools that I went to and meeting kids from all over was part of what made it fun. So the fact that we have kids from all over Canada, the U.S. and Japan, I think that just adds to the experience for the kids. That’s what it’s for. More of the different areas the better, and hopefully they enjoy themselves.”

They certainly did.

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