By Jason Klaiber and Will Eimas-Dietrich
Managing Editor for Promotions and Staff Writer
Just like any other teenager, former Jamesville-DeWitt High School student Luke Kirwan is fond of sports, video games and hanging out with friends. What separates him from the crowd, however, is his dedication and success in the realm of ice hockey, which culminated in the Under-17 World Championship that he and his team won this past year.
Kirwan’s hockey career started when he was two years old, and he was spurred on to play professionally even then by watching NHL games. From the second grade to the eighth grade, Kirwan dedicated himself to a strict training regimen to fulfill his dream. He woke up early every morning, school days included, to skate or work out. “I learned from those early morning sessions that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard enough,” says Kirwan.
As he was growing up, Kirwan practiced his skating and hockey skills under the watchful eye of Don Kirnan, a coach who has a reputation for preparing Syracuse-area players for greater heights in their hockey careers. Kirwan also participated in Strength in Motion sessions with Alex Woods, a former junior national champion in the sport of skeleton. Throughout most of his life, Kirwan has followed a planned-out diet in addition to routinely working out and practicing.
When he was 14, Kirwan started his minor professional hockey career with the Syracuse Jr. Stars team, which is based in Cicero, NY. This team participates alongside 30 other teams across the East Coast in the Empire Junior Hockey League, which is a league for players under 20. In Kirwan’s first year, he put up 43 goals and 36 assists in 39 games, leading to a spot on the 2011-2012 All-Star team for that league. Kirwan says that the coach of the Stars, Scott Montagna, took him under his wing and gave him confidence to play with older players.
He later joined the Middlesex Islanders, a team based in Massachusetts. “When I played with the Islanders,” says Kirwan, “I got better because I was playing against bigger, older guys even more so than before.” From there, he was drafted by the Guelph Storm in the second round of the 2013 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Draft.
Before he debuts in the OHL, Kirwan has been playing with the United States National Team Developmental Program for hockey in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he lives at the moment. Additionally, he played for the USA Under-17 National Hockey Team for six games. During this time, he was the second leading scorer and earned his world championship title. Kirwan says that the feeling of winning the championship was “amazing.” “Representing the United States at a world event was awesome,” he added. “This was a goal of mine ever since the season began. I wanted to help my team win a gold medal.”
He also attributes a large portion of his success to the support and guidance of his family and friends. “My parents have always pushed me to do my best,” he says. “They’ve sacrificed everything for me to get where I am today.” Kirwan added that his father held high expectations for his future on the ice. “If my dad didn’t think I was playing to my potential, he would tell me and then make me work even harder,” he says. His father has instilled in him a work ethic, which roots from his days playing Division-I Football at Syracuse University. His sister, Lauren, also followed in her family’s athletic footsteps; she is currently a star member of the University of New Hampshire Girls Hockey team.
Students at Jamesville-DeWitt High School who are close friends and former classmates of Kirwan’s also recognize the young hockey player’s talent and success. “I’m really happy for him because he sacrifices a lot,” says junior Joe Morgan. According to Morgan, Kirwan hasn’t had the time to participate in activities that other kids normally do because of how much time he dedicates to polishing his hockey skills. “If I could put all my focus towards one thing, then I could turn out like him,” says Morgan; “It’s that love, that passion, that drive for hockey that started him, but his parents’ support lifted him to the level he’s at now.”
Sophomore Rosario DiGristina says that in the time he spent growing up with him, it was noticeable that Kirwan was “more athletic than any other kid.” Junior Lucas Relkin, who played with Kirwan on the Triple-A Nationals team about three years ago, says that he always knew Kirwan was capable of achieving success. “If all goes well, there’s no doubt in my mind that he could make it to the NHL,” he says. Relkin believes that if Kirwan earns a career in the NHL, he could have a chance at making the United States Olympic Roster some day as well.
According to his friends, one of Kirwan’s most detectable traits is his leadership. “He’s definitely a leader,” says Relkin; “He isn’t as much a leader vocally, but he went out and did his thing which made him a leader by example.” Relkin also commended Kirwan for being “very humble” and “really relaxed” concerning the success of his hockey career so far. “He’s just an amazing hockey player,” says sophomore Patrick Gilsson; “He knows the game, he knows what he’s doing on the rink. It’s actually kind of amazing that he doesn’t show the pressure.”