By Mac Christie, Times-Advocate Staff
ST. MARYS – Minor hockey players got the chance to skate with a pro – at least for an hour.
Participants in a McLlwain Powerblades summer session Aug. 15 in St. Marys were visited by Varna’s Ryan O’Reilly, who skated with the players, spoke to them briefly and signed autographs.
O’Reilly, 21, is a centre for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. Last season the 6’0″ 200 lbs. forward led the Avalanche in scoring with 55 points.
For O’Reilly, making an appearance at the power skating session, which is hosted by Kathy McLlwain, is a way to give back.
“I remember when I was that age, any time I saw a guy who played professional hockey in the NHL, it always made you work a little bit harder and listen to whatever they said,” he explained. “So I come out here and say a few good things to kids, tell them to keep working hard and listen to Kathy. It’ll help her and it’ll help the players get better.”
McLlwain helped O’Reilly with his skating in the past.
“I wasn’t the greatest skater and we were looking for someone and we’d heard she’s a great skating coach,” said O’Reilly, a 2009 second-round draft pick. “I started to work with her two or three years ago. She’s helped me so much.”
The sessions focus on fundamental skating skills that can apply to game situations, such as edge control, balance, speed-agility and acceleration.
McLlwain noted having O’Reilly there is all about motivation.
“I try to give any of my skaters or players an opportunity for motivation, just to give them an idea of what it takes to get there,” she said. “I see the little guys’ eyes light up and I think it’s exciting for the parents as well.”
Sam Dupuis, 11, of Bayfield took part in the session and agreed with McLlwain.
“It really shows us what we have to do to get where we want and the skill levels that need to be accomplished to get to the NHL,” said the Huron-Perth Laker. “It’s like a celebrity. How often do you get to see a celebrity? NHL players are like celebrities.”
Dylan Kints, 9, of Exeter also took part.
He noted it’s fun to see NHL players in person.
“He’s a nice guy,” Kints said of O’Reilly. “It’s just awesome having them out.”
McLlwain noted both O’Reilly and his older brother Cal, who recently signed with the Kontinental Hockey League’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk take the time to come out and talk to kids.
“I don’t know that any NHL guy would come out,” she explained. “I very much respect him and his brother for coming out, talking to the kids and signing autographs.”