The last time I saw Kyle Turris, he was hugging his dad in the concourse of Rogers Arena after he was unceremoniously scratched from the Phoenix Coyotes’ lineup for what would have been his NHL debut in front of dozens of friends and family. It was a tough moment to witness, let alone photograph.
But Turris put that disappointment behind him and went on to a successful 13-year career in the NHL with four teams, until injuries forced him to retire from the Edmonton Oilers last summer.
Now, he’s moved his family back to Metro Vancouver and he’s working with his old junior hockey team that I used to cover when it was based in Burnaby and now cover again as it plays in Coquitlam. We recently caught up to talk about a big honour that’s coming his way.
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 on some of the things he’s learned since he was one of them.
Turris is back on the ice with his BC Hockey League (BCHL) alma mater – the Coquitlam Express – as a “helper” after a pro 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 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 Draft.
Turris, who’s originally from 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 the team.
“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 many 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 annually honour 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, fitness and mental health.
“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 Sports 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 doesn’t rule out his role with the Express could be a springboard to greater involvement with the game.
“I’ll always have a love for hockey.”