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Kurtis Gabriel is a Canadian professional hockey player, currently a member of the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Gabriel, a right-winger, played three seasons with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL where he helped them win the OHL Championship. Gabriel then went on to get drafted by the Minnesota Wild, a place where he got his first NHL minutes. From there, Gabriel went on to be traded to the New Jersey Devils, and scored his first NHL goal there. Recently, he joined the Flyers organization Gabriel, as some people call the 'Rudy of hockey', is a true inspirational story. Defying all odds to get where he is, Gabriel is a true work-horse with tons of talent.
The Kurtis Gabriel Interview
1. Growing up in Canada, what was your junior career like?
My junior career in Owen Sound was an up and down battle to constantly get better. I was working all the time to improve. Playing in one of the smallest markets in the CHL there weren’t a lot of distractions, so it was hockey 24/7.
2. What’s your biggest advice for youngsters who are struggling to find their groove and make an impact on the ice?
What I would say to young players who are struggling to be impactful on the ice would be to do a self audit. Track what you do for 2-3 days, how much time spent doing all the different things in your life. Then ask yourself “is how I am living day to day conducive to improving my game?” If you think you are working hard, work harder. Push yourself outside your boundaries and comfort zone until that new level becomes normal. Then keep repeating the process, you will improve.
3. How did you stay motivated throughout your youth when you had all the critics and scouts saying you couldn’t make it to the top?
Well lucky for me I came out of nowhere growing up so never really had a critics. Me and my Mum were so trying to figure out how far I could get! When I did get to higher levels, of course there are doubters. I just loved the game so much, and got addicted to improving, so I had too many things taking up my attention that I didn’t notice it much.
4. In your teens, you were known for being a great basketball player. What made you ultimately choose hockey over basketball?
I was definitely not a great basketball player, I was the same type of basketball player as hockey players. Gritty, all effort, and physical. Baseball was probably the sport I was probably most skilled at. I chose hockey because my passion for it was much deeper than any other sport. It's the most unique game in the world.
5. In 2010, after an impressive tryout, you walked on to the Owen Sound Attack, how're you feeling after finally making the Attack?
When I made the team as a free agent invite, it was a massive shock to me and my family. We then had to make the decision to forego by NCAA eligibility and take the opportunity I had right in-front of me. It was an amazing feeling and I all of a sudden was moving away from home at seventeen. That season we won the OHL championship for the first time, and there was not much playing time for me being so raw, and the team being so deep. I was just happy to have my foot in the door of the best league in the world for my age.
6. After landing a spot on Attack, you were in the pool of players for the NHL Draft. After going undrafted, and a stint in the Coyotes rookie program, you didn't’ get an NHl contract, and you stayed with the Attack. What was your mindset like after all of this?
That was a really tough time. After that first season in the OHL and attending the Coyotes camp, I expected to play a much bigger role right away. That did not happen at all. I had an awful season, with no NHL interest next summer. I had to go back to just trusting that if I put in another huge summer, I could improve enough to have a big third season.
7. In 2011, you went from being an unknown walk on, to an Owen Sound Attack legend after stepping in when Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson were both injured in the playoffs. Leading the Attack to an improbable playoff run, ultimately winning the Memorial Cup. Describe the emotions after winning the Cup, and defying all odds.
I actually only played one play off game. It was our last game of the year, when we were eliminated from the memorial cup. The big run the boys had was to come back to the OHL Championship series, to beat the favourite Missisauga St Mike’s Majors and win the franchises first championship. We had a healthy Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson. When they were both injured in consecutive games in the Memorial Cup it sealed our fate.
8. You mentioned how you dealt with critics and doubters. What’s your advice for people who are dealing with criticism and doubters?
Everybody has opinions. It's your opinion that matters most. If you don’t believe in yourself then no one else will so it starts with you. The most important conversations you will have in life are with yourself. Use the doubters as fuel. You have to love what you do also, your passion has to be bigger than the doubters.
9. After three seasons in Sound, you were drafted by the Minnesota Wild. How were you feeling after finally defying all odds and signing an NHL contract?
It was awesome to go from a guy on no ones radar to being drafted in the third round. I knew the hard work was just about to begin however, so it definitely helped my confidence but after that I always had the mindset that I was an un drafted guy, cause that is how I made the OHL.
10. At a young age, you lost your father. How did you learn to cope through a moment like this and how did this moment turn you into the man your are today?
Losing my dad at 10 was a big hit to my confidence in life and specifically in hockey. Had to slowly build my confidence back up through hard work. For a while it motivated me to succeed, and prove to him what he was missing out on, but I later accepted what happened and realized he was mentally ill, and moved on.
11. In 2015, you made your first NHL appearance. What were you thinking as your stepped on to the ice for the first time in the NHL?
I wasn’t really thinking at all which was great, I had so much adrenaline floating through me. My mum, step dad brother and best friend were on one side of the arena in warmup, and another friend was on the other side. Was a surreal moment.
12. While playing for the Wild, your rotated between both the AHL and NHL teams. How was your experience at the Wild organization, what did it teach you as a player?
I wish things had gone differently with the Wild. I went in with the best intentions, and gave it everything I had. Taught me how consistent you had to be to be an everyday NHL guy, and my 4 years spent in Iowa taught me how to be a pro in the face of constant adversity being on a non playoff team every year.
13. In 2018, you were traded to the Devils. How was the move from Minnesota to New Jersey?
I signed with the Devils as a free agent. Was nice to know other teams valued me, and that Chuck Fletcher, now an advisor for the Devils, still believed in me.
14. In February of 2019, you scored your first professional goal. How were you feeling after scoring that goal?
I scored my first NHL goal against as a Devil against the Senators. Was a surreal moment. My second goal 2 games later was even more memorable for me because of how I scored, and I got to fully celebrate it and I have never screamed so loud.
15. Who’s the best player you’ve ever played against?
Ovechkin was the best player I ever played against. He oozes confidence and just looks like he's playing the game like a kid plays, so much fun and passion.
16. What’s the most memorable from your playing career?
Definitely scoring my second NHL goal on Carey Price, in a game when we beat the Canadiens.
17. What’s your word of advice for players trying to make an impact and progress to the professional level?
My advice would be to never let your foot off the gas, and always trying to improve. To be an NHL player you have to be so remarkably consistent that it comes down to the 6 inches between your ears, and nothing else.
18. Any last words for the readers?
Just that life isn’t fair, and it is extremely hard. Everybody has their own battles in life, so accept it, and battle as hard as you can.
photo via https://www.instagram.com/kurtisgabriel