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Ohio well represented in hockey World Juniors

Dublin native Sean Kuraly knew at a young age he wanted to follow his dad’s footsteps and become a Miami RedHawk. One thing he probably never expected to happen was to be coached by a Buckeye. Kuraly is one of four Ohioans named to the United State Under-20 National Team preliminary roster.

Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki is a member of the United States Under-20 National Team’s coaching staff which will compete in this month’s IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championships in Russia. Kuraly and Osiecki will leave their respective teams after Miami visits Ohio State in a two-game series this weekend to join the junior National Team in Tarrytown, N.Y.

“That is kind of different,” Kuraly said about joining Osiecki. “Saturday night, we’ll be playing Ohio State, and the next day, jump on a plane with him and be on the ice with him Sunday. It will be different but it is all business.”

Training camp for the event starts Sunday. Osiecki, Kuraly, and Miami forward Riley Barber are travelling together by plane Sunday morning to take part in the initial training camp. The three-day camp will help whittle the roster from 27 to 23 when the team resumes camp Dec. 23 in Helsinki, Finland.

“As soon as this weekend is over, the switch goes on,” Osiecki said. “You put on different colors in a way so it is pretty easy. Riley and them being teammates changes pretty quickly once you put the colors on.”

Three of the four Ohio natives have Miami University connections. Besides Kuraly, Loveland native Tyler Biggs played with Miami last season before bolting to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. Another Dublin native Connor Murphy, a 2011 first round NHL Draft pick to the Phoenix Coyotes, originally signed with Miami but back out of his commitment to play with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.

J.T. Miller, a forward from East Palestine is one of three returning junior players to the USA squad. He is currently playing for the AHL’s Connecticut Whale.

Osiecki gives credit to the NHL adding a team in Columbus for the talent coming out of the area. Murphy and Kuraly both played for the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets; the junior program is sponsored by the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It speaks volumes to what is happening within the state and I think hockey continues to grow,” Osiecki said. “Hockey has a long tradition in this state and you can have minor league hockey for a long time in a state and it grows to an extent. But now with the Blue Jackets, it grows fast at the grassroots level.”

Growing up together in Dublin, Kuraly and Murphy became friends in the fourth grade and have crossed paths many times since the two committed to joining the RedHawks.

“It is cool we get the US thing together a few times,” Kuraly said.

Though traditionally Michigan has been Ohio State’s biggest rival as a university, the rivalry that Ohio State
and Miami have for each other in hockey is without parallel. Both Osiecki and Kuraly say they can put the rivalry to the side in order to help the Americans bring home gold.

“It is a huge rivalry game for us,” Kuraly said. “We don’t take it lightly. It is an in-state game and it is something we always get up for and something we have been preparing for all week. It is a game we always want to win.”

The tournament starts Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 5. Last year, the United States got knocked out in the group stage. Three years ago, the Americans won the tournament when the Canadian province of Saskatchewan hosted the tournament.

Besides the four Ohioans, Barber, and Osiecki, Blue Jackets defensive prospect and current Minnesota defender Mike Reilly is also on the preliminary roster. Safe to say there will at least be a few players in the World Juniors worth watching.

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