Sports

Wright high on hockey

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s the Development Coach with the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets, Tyler Wright visits arenas all over North America checking up on top prospects.

Last weekend, the former Edmonton Oiler first-round draft pick was at the Sunwave Centre in Salmon Arm, as a hockey parent. His nine-year-old son Tanner was in the Okanagan Senior Atom playoffs with the H&L Glass Wolfpack.

Tyler, who racked up 149 points and 854 penalty minutes in 613 NHL games after starring for the WHL Swift Current Broncos, is loving the hockey dad thing.

“It’s great. I’m a fan of the game and we all want our kids to succeed and develop into NHL players and I think we’re all a little naive to think that we’re all gonna do that. But, I think more importantly, if the kids come to the rink and they’re happy, they learn some very valuable life lessons along the way. Being a good teammate, playing the game the right way and learn to be a good leader, I think those things are just as important as succeeding in hockey.”

The product of Kamsack, Sask., Tyler’s father, Jim, stood by him in the Sunwave stands, bringing back fond memories for Tyler.

“People don’t understand that until you go through it with a child, the sacrifices, even me as my son is starting to get into it at nine, you do as a parent on weekends. Not only that, siblings. I’ve got a 12-year-old daughter, and the last thing she wants to do is be pulled around to rinks.

“To have my dad out here, he’s obviously been a big part of my career and upbringing and the way I approach the game. It’s kind of neat how he interacts with my son as well. I kind of tend to be the guy who asks him (Tanner) why he’s doing stuff and my dad trumps me by reinforcing the positive stuff.”

Wright was plucked out of the 2000 expansion draft by the Jackets and registered 16 goals and 32 points while becoming a leader in their inaugural season. He re-joined Columbus in 2007 as a coach.

His agenda focuses on giving draft picks every resource to succeed at the next level. Once the Jackets make a pick in the amateur lottery, that player is watched and treated like they’re gold.

Wright notes the players are getting bigger, stronger and faster every year, and it takes a yearly training process to develop and keep up.

The Jackets took Port Moody’s Ryan Johansen with their first choice last summer in L.A. and the 6-foot-3, 200-pound centre is expected to complement superstar Rick Nash in due time.

“He’s an elite player, going fourth overall in the draft. He’s got 75 points in 50-something games in the Western League playing on one of the top teams (the No. 7 CHL ranked Portland Winterhawks). We really wanted him to come back to junior this year and be part of a winning culture and the world juniors was going to be a big stage for him. He wasn’t a lock to make the team, but made the team and made a huge impression in the tournament, falling short a little bit.

“He’s got an exciting future. The biggest thing is going to be his offseason training. He’s got to get stronger and he’s got to make that commitment level and if he doesn’t do that, then he’s gonna push himself back a little bit, but he’s a pretty focussed kid and he’s definitely somebody we’re definitely excited to get in our lineup here in the near future.”

Wright said while the media always points out Nash is all alone in Columbus, he says those elite players are hard to find.

“I think with a guy like Ryan Johansen, we’re really excited, but in the same breath, you gotta make sure you develop them and they’re getting the right direction and not giving them too much too son, and making sure that there’s a little bit of trust there. In the same sense, you don’t wanna give these kids too much. They’ve got to earn it and they’ve gotta have a respect for the game and if they’re brought along the right way, then he’s got a big, bright future ahead of him. So, hopefully, we can bridge that gap with Ryan.”

Wright, as are most fans, is somewhat concerned at the serious injuries going around the NHL.

“The last thing we wanna see is a kid like Sidney Crosby, who is the face of the National Hockey League, to go out with an injury right now. I think, we all on the management side have to be aware of what the game is going to become because if we start losing players like this, our game is going to go down very quickly.”

Wright helped found the Hats for Heroes program with the Jackets and two weeks ago, the team raised $200,000 for children with cancer.

They have raised $1.5 million in 10 years through the sale of hats, T-shirts and pins.

“It started out with one hat and one hero and it’s kind of grown. I’m very proud of the career I had but I had something to do with starting this and more importantly, the families you meet and the relationships you have with these children, that goes way beyond any hockey game and any goal that you can score and any championship you can win.

“It’s something I’m very proud of and I think my kids are proud of. It’s a way of showing them some kids are dealing with a game every day and some win and some don’t, and if you can make a difference, then we’ve done our job.”

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