While Queen’s forward Kyla Crouse’s home rink sits at Kingston’s Memorial Centre, another Crouse sibling is skating just over two kilometres away for the town’s beloved Frontenacs junior team.
Now in her third year with the Gaels, Kyla’s play as a defensive forward for the women’s hockey team has been an integral factor in their success. This year, they’ve won nine of their 13 games, and they’re pushing for their first OUA title since 2013.
Taken 11th overall in the 2015 NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, Kyla’s 18-year-old younger brother Lawson serves as assistant captain for a team with the league’s third best record.
Lawson’s recognition as a member of Canada’s World Junior team over the past two seasons — including the 2015 edition as the team’s youngest player on a gold medal-winning side — brought his name into the forefront as one of the country’s most well-known teenage hockey players.
The NHL draft was undoubtedly a life-changing moment for the Crouses. But it’s perhaps the story of the OHL draft two years earlier that’s the most unique part in the family’s hockey history. With the fifth pick in the OHL draft, Kingston selected Lawson — meaning Lawson and Kyla would compete for different teams in the same city.
The siblings are similar on paper: a hunger for the puck, strong physical play and presence on the penalty kill fits scouting reports for either Crouse sibling. Their solid defensive play as forwards likely has a direct relation to the fact both used to be defenders before switching positions.
Kyla recognizes the different dreams of her and her brother — while she was always focused on going to the university route, Lawson’s ambitions were to play in the NHL.
“I’ve never felt overshadowed by him,” she said.
Kyla’s journey into hockey started like so many other young Canadians — but like her brother, her career path is one that few will ever experience.
Growing up in the community of Mt. Brydges — near London, On. — the current Gaels forward picked up the game after watching her brother and older sister, Sara, play.
A few months before Lawson was drafted to the OHL, a campus visit with Queen’s women’s hockey coach Matt Holmberg changed Kyla’s university ambitions. Plans of studying for admission tests and fielding offers from American NCAA schools went out the window as Kyla fell in love with the Queen’s community.
“I wanted to commit right then and there,” she said. Today, she couldn’t be happier with her choice of school.
“If I wasn’t playing hockey, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” she said.
Kyla Crouse has picked up six points in 13 games this season.
Photo by Kendra Pierroz
“Obviously, the streams of hockey for men and women are very different,” coach Holmberg wrote in an email. “Kyla has been every bit as successful as her brother in reaching the highest levels within their respective sports.”
Kyla spent her first year of university living in residence, while Lawson spent his grade 11 year as most other OHL rookies do, billeting locally with a host family.
“Even though they were two years apart, we lost them both at the same time. We were a bit of early empty nesters,” their mother Kristen said of the pair’s departure in 2013, as Sara was also away at school.
“I was thinking they’d see each other all the time,” Kristen said. Conflicting schedules, different social groups and housing situations complicated the idea of this vision. But while the two weren’t necessarily connected at the hip, they kept their closeness.
They’ve never skated on the same ice in any formal fashion, but off-ice workouts at the same gym have been common during past summers at home.
Although it’s their third season together in the same city, the luck and convenience of having two of her three children playing high-level hockey in the same city isn’t lost on Kristen.
“You can see two or three games in the weekend,” she said, adding that she and Mike, Kyla and Lawson’s father, visit Kingston several times a year.
While conflicts still occur — such as games played at the same time or in different cities — both Kyla and Lawson make multiple appearances in each other’s arenas throughout the year.
Kyla’s likely to finish her competitive hockey career off with the university game while earning a degree in Physical Education. She’ll then look for employment in physiotherapy or sport medicine, while Lawson’s projected to make the jump to professional hockey next year, making a new home in Sunrise, Florida.
And while it’s any parent’s wish to see their child achieve their biggest dreams, there’s one downside for Kristen. Her son will likely play in the world’s best league next year, but it’ll be in a city over 2,000 kilometres away from his sister in Kingston.
“It would make our trips [to go see both their games] a little harder,” Kristen said.
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