For Blue Jackets center Sean Kuraly, it was never a question of if he was going to play hockey, it was just a matter of where. With a pro career that started in Boston, this native son of Columbus has made his way back to the Arch City to play for his home team.
Kuraly, who was born in Lewiston, New York, but relocated to Dublin, Ohio at the age of two, has hockey in his blood.
“My parents are from Toronto, Canada, and my dad played [collegiately] for Miami of Ohio, so hockey was always big in our house,” he said. “I grew up on skates.”
And his immersion in the sport from a young age paid off. When Kuraly was 18, he was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round–the 133rd player overall–in the 2011 NHL Draft.
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Unlike the NFL or NBA Draft, many NHL draft picks don’t immediately become part of the professional teams that selected them. And while Kuraly knew he had a lot to prove before becoming a pro, the selection still felt like a huge validation to the Columbus-area product.
“Getting drafted is by no means a guarantee that you’ve made it, but it was still important. For me it was that nudge that kept telling me, ‘Stick to this,’” Kuraly said.
After following his father’s footsteps and heading to Miami of Ohio University, Kuraly played college hockey for four seasons, racking up a pair of NCHC Academic All-Conference Team accolades, in addition to being named NCHC Defensive Forward of the Year for the 2015-2016 season.
While at Miami, Kuraly’s rights were traded from San Jose to Boston, and after finishing school, he signed his first professional contract with the Bruins in 2016. After some minor league play, Kurlay skated onto NHL ice for the first time in November of 2016, when Boston traveled to Tampa Bay.
“That first time I stepped on the ice for an NHL game, that’s something I’ll remember,” he said.
In 2020, after four solid years with the Bruins, Kuraly had the chance to come home. And he took it, inking a deal with the Blue Jackets. Last year, his first season on the team, Kurlay scored a career-high 14 goals.
The team’s veteran center attributed his signing to a mixture of circumstance plus his desire to play for his hometown team. And it’s an opportunity he’s not taking for granted.
“It’s a cool thing to be able to play for my hometown team; It’s such a unique opportunity,” he said. “Since I was 16, I’ve been traveling for hockey, and it’s so nice to have the chance to be around family and friends again.”
Columbus, which first received an NHL hockey team in 1997 when Kurlay was four years old, is in a unique position as a sports city. While the team is newer than most NHL franchises, Kuraly said the fan support in central Ohio is just as adamant as others.
And as Columbus is primed for major growth over the next decade, the hometown product Kuraly hopes to lead the city’s growth on the ice.
“Columbus has come a long way as a hockey town, it’s exciting to see,” he said. “We’re a young team right now, but the support we have is pretty amazing, especially seeing a sold-out crowd on New Year’s Eve. It’s like the city and the team are growing together.”
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