Austrian world youth coach Kirk Furey returns home to Nova Scotia: ‘Dreams come true’

Kirk Furey boarded the plane at the age of 16 with the knowledge that his hockey journey – his dream – would likely take him far away from home.

Nearly three decades later, his path across tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic has brought him back to where he started.

Product of Glace Bay, NS, whose track record resembles an alphabet soup, was asked in the fall if he wanted to take a break from leading the Austrian club’s development program. himself to coach the national team to participate in the world hockey championship or not.

The task is difficult. The location of the league makes it easy to understand.

“A dream come true,” said Furey. “I don’t think it could really be more relevant.”

He’s not joking.

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As a minor hockey nation, Austria finished 10th at the last two men’s under-20s showcase events, but has not faced relegation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Austrians, at least for the short term, also distanced themselves from home-grown coaches, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant the country lost the right to host the 2023 tournament.

Replace Halifax and Moncton, NB, to fill the void — and give Furey a scenario he never envisioned.

“One beauty of East Coast people is that when they embrace a situation or their people, they do it,” said Furey, 46, about 20 years after Halifax first hosted the world youth tournament. 100%.

“I don’t think people really understand how important and what it means to the East Coast.

“Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Couldn’t have written a different or better script.”

However, his own script has a lot of twists and turns.

A guard on the smaller side at a time when bruised blues were the norm, Furey left Nova Scotia in the mid-1990s because there were no junior majors in the province.

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A few seasons in the Ontario Hockey League didn’t go as planned, but he found his way around the Canadian college circuit in his home province with Acadia Axemen.

Robbie Sinclair, his childhood friend and teammate, said: “One of the most important things for Kirk is persistence. “Then he really took off.”

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Brad Furey, Kirk’s brother for more than a decade and a growth coach, said his younger brother was a player ahead of his time.

“Beautiful skater,” said Brad Furey. “If the game had changed, he would have been an elite defender.”

Meanwhile, Kirk Furey credits his brother for helping him get through the tough times.

He said: “Every kid at play has times when you start to question, ‘Is it worth it? “There are bumpy roads where I call my brother and say, ‘Maybe it’s time to pack up.’ And he would say, ‘Just try a little harder.’

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He kept me away.

Most players who come out of college hockey, with degrees in hand, move on to careers off the ice.

But not Furey.

He would spend three seasons between the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies and the Philadelphia Phantoms between 2001 and 2004, including a 30-point campaign in the American Hockey League.

Furey, the Austrian who was eliminated in their first two games at the world youth tournament ahead of Thursday’s appointment with Canada, is also an inspiration to other Nova Scotia talents looking to succeed.

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Sinclair recalls his friend staying with him one summer between hockey seasons and trying to ask him out for a beer.

Only one? There are no dice.

“So dedicated,” Sinclair recalls. “Trained like a hockey player should be trained.”

Brad Furey wasn’t surprised to hear that story.

“Some very famous people from here in hockey have relied on

(Kirk) and asked, ‘How much time?’ he said. “He told them, ‘If you are not the elite of the elite, you will have to become the elite of the next group by condition and dedication.’

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“He would say to the people behind him, ‘You want to do that? You have to commit more than anyone else.”’

There was an opportunity to sign a two-way contract with the NHL before the 2004-05 season, but the impending shutdown meant that Kirk Furey – then 28 years old – had to make a big decision.

He chose Europe.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said Furey. “One thing I never do is look back and ask, ‘What if?’

“I do not regret.”

It’s not hard to see why.

Three seasons in Germany playing for Kassel Huskies and Iserlohn Roosters included meeting his future wife Jennifer from just outside Winnipeg.

The couple will move to Austria and get married _ they have two children _ where Kirk played eight seasons with Klagenfurt AC before moving on to coach for the same organization.

“The journey is not the most ordinary,” says Furey. “But it’s definitely something that I really believe creates character.

“Teached me a lot.”

Brad Furey said his brother’s journey was a surprise. The hard work that has brought him to this point is no.

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“The kid is very committed,” he said. “People will always ask, ‘What hockey school did he go to or what camps did he go to?’ My parents could never afford anywhere. He’s one of those gifted people.

“He’s never had an easy road.”

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There has been a lot of support for Furey from family, friends and Nova Scotians through Austria’s first two games.

Brad’s wife, Karen, knitted tuques in the colors of the country, while the crowd cheered on each shot by the dominant Europeans.

One person who’s not here is Kirk and Brad’s father, Jim, who passed away in 2005.

“My biggest fan,” Kirk Furey said, his voice hoarse. “My brother was my support during difficult times.

“But my dad is my biggest fan. He is very proud.

His youngest son – at last – has returned home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 28, 2022.


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