Austin’s John Kirby looking to make a splash with hockey career

Published 1:49 pm Monday, June 15, 2009

Sometimes you have to leave home to get where you want to be.

That’s what Austin graduate John Kirby has done and he’s hoping it will eventually take him to the world of college hockey. Kirby, who graduated from Austin this past spring, spent much of the past school year in Kansas City playing for the Russell Stover Stars, a AAA midget hockey club.

He has now signed on to play for the Southern Minnesota Express of Owatonna this upcoming season, which gets under-way Sept. 1

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At first Kirby struggled with the decision to head for KC, but he knew it gave him his best shot to play hockey beyond the high school level.

“It was really tough because I had all my friends here,” he said. “But I thought about me being able to play hockey after high school and the coach at the Express told me I probably wouldn’t be able to do that if I stayed at Austin.”

So he packed his bags and headed for Kansas City, where he scored 10 goals and had nine assists as a first line defenseman for the Stars, who advanced to the National Tournament, but lost two games by one goal apiece. He said Stars’ coach Pat Ferschweiler taught him a lot about the game.

“The coaching there was incredible,” Kirby said. “He’s probably one of the best hockey developers in the country. I improved so much. My dad told me every time he came to a game that I was just a different player since I came down there.”

Kirby played varsity hockey for two full seasons at Austin. He started as a forward his injury shortened freshman season, but switched to a defenseman his sophomore year. He finished with 19 goals for the Packers.

Kirby’s older brother Tim Kirby spent two years with the Express and went on to play for Air Force Academy last season. As a freshman defenseman, Tim Kirby had two goals and 11 assists on 58 shots.

John Kirby is looking to duplicate his older brother’s success and he is hoping two years with the Express could give him a shot at a college hockey scholarship.

“(Tim’s) definitely a big inspiration, without him I wouldn’t have the intensity to strive for my goals,” John Kirby said. “I’m following him and I’ve always looked up to him since I was younger. It’s nice to have him helping me out.”

With the Express, Kirby will have to meet a new bunch of teammates, but he is familiar with a couple of the names on the roster. He will also be playing in front of some familiar faces when he takes to the ice at Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna as his parents will be able to come and watch him on a nightly basis.

“It’ll be nice to be close to home,” he said.

The Express are a Class ‘A’ Junior Hockey team, they went 29-24 and took third in the Central Division.

Kirby is playing for the Austin Legion Post 91 baseball team this summer and the Austin Greyhounds. He wanted to play for the Austin High School baseball team this past spring, but MSHL rules prohibited it since he had transferred schools during the year.