While the Checkers’ training camp roster is littered with players from traditional hockey hotbeds, homegrown talent is starting to make its mark on the pro game.
Although he was born in Michigan, Owens claims Raleigh as his hometown and spent his formative hockey years here in North Carolina.
“Hockey’s growing and North Carolina has a lot of good hockey players,” said Owens. “Not only in their systems but in those homegrown areas like Cary, Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville. Pretty much all of the Carolinas is breeding good hockey players and I think that it’s something that is going nationwide.”
Owens isn’t alone in representing the state at Checkers camp as Josh Wesley, another Raleigh-bred blue liner, prepares to head into his third pro season. Combine that with the selection of Tyler Weiss by Colorado in the fourth round of this past draft and the idea of North Carolina being a talent-producing state seems to be taking hold.
“You look and there are guys going to big schools. You look at Josh [Wesley], he played major junior. Hockey is definitely growing in the Carolinas. Be on the lookout for players in the future.”
“It’s huge for the young kids and it’s huge for the Jr. Hurricanes organization,” said head coach Mike Vellucci on the success of hockey in North Carolina. “They’re taking good players in and they’re making the move on to juniors and college and the pros. It’s awesome to see. It’s a tribute to how guys who played for the Hurricanes are staying around and helping develop those players. It’s great for the whole organization. It’s great to watch somebody that you know, somebody that you watched grow up. It’s a lot of fun for everybody.”
For now, Owens is battling to make an impression during his time at Checkers camp. The 24-year-old signed a deal with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits over the summer, but a strong showing this week could put him line for some AHL time during the season.
“I’m just trying to play my game and stick wherever I can,” said Owens. “I want to be an impact whether that’s here in Charlotte or in Greenville or somewhere else. I just want to show everyone what I can do and what I can bring to the table and try to make a career out of it.”
“Owens had a good practice,” said head coach Mike Vellucci after Monday’s skate. “I saw him score a couple nice goals and he was getting right there in the play, which is what we like our D to do. It’s little things like that that you notice.”
As Owens navigates his way into his pro career, he’s also helping set the stage for a whole new generation of hockey in North Carolina.
“You just want to do the best you can for yourself but also pave the way for other guys,” he said. “I came up in the Carolina system and it’s something that I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity. You want to make your way and help as many people as you can along the way.”