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Kingston Junior Frontenacs goalie inspires Sharbot Lake students

by Julie Druker

Photo: Greater Kingston Junior Frontenacs goalie Graeme Gemmill visited Sharbot Lake PS on March 8

Students in Stephanie Leeder's grade 5/6 class at Sharbot Lake Public School fired multiple questions at one local hockey hero when he visited the school on March 8. And like the great goalie he is, Graeme Gemmill easily managed to catch and return every single one of them.

The 16-year-old goalie from Godfrey, who was named Midget Goalie of the Year last year for the Kingston Canadians and who currently plays goalie for the Greater Kingston Junior Frontenacs, has been playing in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association for eight years. During his visit to the school, Graeme not only gave students a chance to get up close and personal with his skates, goalie mask, pads and stick but also spoke of how he, an all around high achiever, manages to balance a serious hockey life with teenage student life. Graeme is a grade 11 student at Sydenham High School. He started playing hockey at age eight at the Frontenac Arena and started playing goal at 12, which is a later than usual start.

However he was able to use his story to stress to the students that any serious endeavor can begin at any age. “It doesn't matter how old you are when you start whatever it is that you want to pursue. I know that a lot of hockey players start playing at 4 and 5 years old, but I don't think the age at which you start something is what matters most. What does matter most is that you have the drive; that is what counts.” While the students were eagerly inspecting Graeme’s gear, his mother Sue told me that her son “is a humble player and most importantly has learned how to balance his time”. Graeme later shared that priority with the students. “No matter what else you want to include in your life, be it a sport or any other endeavor, I can't express how important it is that school comes first”, he said. Graeme fielded typical fan queries from his young audience. His favorite NHL team? Montreal. His favorite player? Price.

He also shared numerous personal stories – one was about one of the first NHL games he attended, when a sign that his mother had made for him attracted the attention of a young Jaroslav Halak, who ended up giving Graeme his goalie stick. “That was one thing that really set me off and made me really want to strive to get to that level of play myself.”

Asked about any unusual rituals he partakes in before games, Graeme said that he puts all of his gear on - left side first. He also loves to juggle pucks. “I'm one of the weird guys. Other guys like to warm up before games and get really hot and sweaty but I hate getting hot before a game and will only run for about five minutes as my pre-game warm up. I also prefer not to talk much before a game.”

He showed the students a number of videos, including one of a training session he participated in with Danny Taylor, who plays with Calgary in the NHL and with Abbotsford in the AHL, and a practice session he took part in at the Under 16 Program of Excellence in Oshawa. Lastly, he showed a warm up session that he was invited to attend with the Napanee Raiders.

Last year Graeme and his team, the Kingston Canadians, had numerous highlights and were the Cobourg Region Silver Stick Champions and OMHA finalists.

Students in the class came away inspired by his presentation. Megan Dunham, who started playing hockey at the age 10 for the Tay Valley Tornadoes, said that she hopes to play goalie one day. Eddie Brown, another student in the class who donned a Kingston Frontenacs toque, has seen Graeme play once before and was thrilled to have a chance to speak with him.

Following the presentation Graeme said that speaking in classrooms to young kids is something that he likes to do. “This is a way that I can give back to the community and also to let these kids know that if they set their heart on something that they truly want, they can achieve it. I have a strong work ethic and I want them to know that if you have that, anything is possible.”

As far as his future plans go, Graeme hopes to get a scholarship and play in the NCAA and has spoken with reps from various schools. And what about the NHL? Here Graeme demonstrated some of that realistic attitude and humbleness his mother mentioned earlier. “Of course it would be ideal to make the NHL but let's face it; there are thousands of guys who want those spots.”