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Gabriel's Journey Has Been Fueled By Family

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Kurtis Gabriel's mother, Kim, has been watching her son play using the AHL's streaming services. On Tuesday, her vantage point will be a bit better.

"When I first started on this journey, she kind of didn't know anything about hockey," Gabriel said. "Now, I honestly think she could be a scout. She watches games, she goes to local junior games and watches games and tells me things I need to do better.

"It's crazy. She knows the game inside-out."

As Gabriel talks about his journey a day before he is expected to make his NHL debut, his mother is a big part of it. So are his grandparents, Betty and Bob.

At 17, Garbiel broke his wrist during a hockey tryout, and decided from that point on to only focus on playing hockey after also having been a baseball player. It's been all-hockey ever since.

"My mom didn't push me to play anything, I just did what made me happy, and realized at 17 this is what I wanted to do with my life," Gabriel said. "It's why I've been able to train hard and not be really too burnt out. I love it so much."

It's that love and passion that are evident in things like Gabriel's work ethic, which he's lauded for, and the off-ice habits that have helped him to get to where he's at now.

"My grandparents came over from Scotland and built a great life for my mom, and obviously that's transferred down to me and my brother," Gabriel said. "It starts with their hard work, my mom's hard work, and I've picked up on it."

Gabriel's game is a bit more physical and has some sandpaper to it, an element that made him a logical fit to debut against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

 But the Wild plays a system, and it's one that Gabriel, even in his ability to provide something different, needs to fit into.

"It's always a luxury (to have a big body), and those guys always have to prove that they can play, and that's the game today," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "By all accounts, he's been playing the game well. He knows the things he has to work on, he knows the type of game that he has to bring, but you can't just run around and have 15 hits in the game and be minus-three.

"You have to be able to play the game, you have to execute, and along the way try to find a way to bring a physical presence to the game."

So taking that to heart, Gabriel has combined his macro work ethic and love for hockey to fuel his path.

He's worked with Andy and Diane Ness to improve his skating.

"I'm just really straight-legged; I don't get low enough," Garbriel said. "You see all the best skaters, they're right down low, and their knees are always at a 90-degree angle so they can get that power out of their lower-body, and that's what we worked on."

He's consulted with nutritionists and continued to fine-tune his diet to tailor it to his body type.

"As you get older, your metabolism starts to slow down a bit," Gabriel said. "You can't eat pizzas after the game. It's just carbs before and after workouts. And then it's really just proteins, veggies, and good fats."

And filling the more physical role, Gabriel, as he put it, has "done his homework" training in gyms to make sure that should fisticuffs come knocking, Gabriel can knock right back.

"You have to be a student; you can't just walk in," Gabriel said. "I'm not a guy that's street fighting. I don't want to give away my secrets of who I train with, but a lot of guys train there, and I don't like to run into those guys because they know what you're going to do sometimes."

If Gabriel does make his NHL debut on Tuesday, it will be because he earned it.

"It's always a great thing for the organization when people put in the work, and they develop, and they've shown the commitment," Yeo said. "It's a great message for that player to reinforce all the things that they're doing, but as much as anything else it's a great message to the rest of the group, and young kids coming up, of what's required."

On Tuesday, with his mother in the stands along with his stepfather Bill, his brother Iain, and his best friend Mark, the sightlines will be a bit better than Kim's usual view of a game stream.

Gabriel won't have to text her after the game to clarify a play ("and I can't text her until about two hours after the game because she watches it delayed," he said), but instead he'll get to share the moment with someone who has been so influential on his journey.

"You always think that you're going to try to soak it in a lot, but it's better to just prepare like it's a regular game, and soak it in after, and kind of reminisce about it after," Gabriel said. "Right now it's all business, and I just want to really show that I can play here."

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