Pulling pucks from the net and tapping shin pads of junior hockey players might be a step down for a 13-season NHLer, but for Kyle Turris it’s a chance to stay connected to the sport and pass down some of the things he’s learned since he was one of them.
Turris is back on the ice with his BC Hockey League alma mater, the Coquitlam Express, as a “helper,” after a career that took him to Phoenix, Ottawa, Nashville and Edmonton, with minor diversions to San Antonio and Sweden along the way.
On Jan. 6, Turris’ old #19 Express jersey will be retired as the team’s most celebrated alumnus who led it to a national Junior A championship in 2006 when it was temporarily displaced to Burnaby. The following season he scored 121 points and was named the top Junior A player in Canada before being selected third overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Turris, who grew up in New Westminster, has returned to Metro Vancouver to raise his young family and assess his next steps that includes resuming his Business Management degree that he started during his one season at the University of Wisconsin before he turned pro with the Phoenix Coyotes. He said after talking with Express general manager Tali Campbell and head coach Patrick Sexton, he knew he had something to offer.
“I enjoy working with the kids and just kind of helping them to grow,” Turris said prior to heading onto the ice to shag pucks and share quips at a recent Express practice. “There’s a lot of lessons in sport and hockey that translate into real life.”
Turris said a lot of those lessons came his way from the likes of former Vancouver Canucks Darcy Rota and Rick Lanz during his two seasons with the Express, as well as his teammates on that championship team.
“You learned what it took to have that success, how to develop into a good professional,” Turris said, adding their teachings often encompassed simple things that can be easily overlooked, like being on time, being respectful.
“It’s just being a good person.”
Clearly he was paying attention.
During his NHL career, Turris developed an affinity for community involvement and giving back, most notably with the Capital City Condors, a community program in Ottawa that extends hockey opportunities to kids who might not otherwise be able to play because of cognitive or physical challenges.
Last summer, the BCHL recognized his dedication to community building by creating the Kyle Turris Community Award to honour annually one player on each of the league’s 18 teams for service to their community.
Turris said he respects the pressure the current generation of junior hockey players endure; when he was coming up, social media was still in its formative stages and the pursuit of post-secondary opportunities has become more expectation than aspiration.
“These things are bigger and more prominent now than they were when I was at that age,” he said.
On the flip side, young players today have more resources at their service, like professional guidance for diet and fitness.
“They know what to expect and how to develop into the person who’s ready for the next level,” Turris said.
As for seeing his jersey hung at the end of the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex — ironically an arena where Turris never played as it was undergoing renovations when he was with the Express — he said the honour is more of a reflection of the teams he was part of.
“It’s not just my success,” Turris said. “I feel like it kind of pays tribute to them and helping me have the success I had. The combination of both years it was more of a team success than a personal success.”
Still just 33 years-old, Turris said a series of injuries to his back through the latter years of his career hastened his departure from hockey. For now he’s happy hanging out with his three kids at their new home in North Vancouver. But he doesn’t rule out his helper role with the Express could be a springboard to greater involvement with the game.
“I’ll always have a love for hockey.”
• Turris' jersey will be retired in a ceremony prior to the Express game against the Chilliwack Chiefs. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.