On Nov.2, the San Jose Sharks signed forward Kurtis Gabriel, one of the sport’s biggest advocates.
For years the Ontario native has reached the front pages for his impact off the ice. After fighting his way through the AHL and onto the San Jose Sharks roster, he has a chance to make an impact on the ice as well.
Kurtis Gabriel learned to love hockey through his father, who had him on skates in elementary school. By age 10, he played at a triple-A level and showed NHL caliber potential at that time.
His world came crashing down when his father committed suicide later that year. Understandably struggling, he fell two divisions.
Gabriel said that he internalized his frustration and grief of the situation and it held him back overall. But over time, he learned to talk about his father’s death healthily, and as his mind improved, his play improved.
To this day, he works as an advocate for the Shared Grief Project, a nationally prominent support group. In this, he openly tells his own story and directs children dealing with parental death to a team of counselors.
But he does not limit his impact to just mental health advocacy and providing professional support to those who need it. Gabriel also places himself front and center for LGBTQ+ equal rights advocacy.
For pride month, the NHL launched a campaign called pride tape, in which NHL players use rainbow-colored tape on their sticks. Many of these athletes do not continue using the tape once pride month is over, but he did not.
In fact, he scored one of his two career NHL goals with the tape on well past pride month. His decision to do so brought him into the limelight to talk about equal rights. Gabriel feels strongly that little decisions like wearing the tape go a long way to improve LGBTQ+ mental health and making those in the community feel accepted.
Needless to say, the Sharks are blessed to have a skater with such a fantastic impact off the ice with the team. But the real question becomes, what can the 27-year old bring to the table on the ice.
He only has five career points in the NHL with two goals and three assists over three seasons.
Last season he played for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the AHL level. During that time, he accounted for five goals and four assists through 53 games.
While his numbers do not quite jump out to the eye, general manager Doug Wilson feels good about what he can bring to the team.
"“Kurtis provides valuable depth to the organization, having experience at both the NHL and AHL level,” said Wilson. “He is a great teammate who brings an extremely competitive, hard working attitude on the ice. We are happy to have him join our organization.”"
Heading into next season, the expectation is that he will suit up for the Barracuda instead of the Sharks. But depending on how he performs, don’t be surprised if he quickly works his way up to the NHL level.