CLAYTON — Kyle Newsome fell in love with the speed and skill he saw in the first professional hockey game he ever attended: a meeting between the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers in 1999.
Fifteen years later, the Clayton High School graduate is a step closer to the dream of college or professional hockey.
Newsome, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound wing and center, signed a one-year developmental contract with the Hampton Roads (Va.) Junior Whalers recently. The Junior Whalers are a high-level amateur club and a member of the U.S. Premier Hockey League. Their goal is to help amateur players earn the opportunity to sign with a college or professional club.
Clubs like the Junior Whalers are often used by college prospects to further ready their skills for college hockey. Unlike most sports, the majority of college hockey players begin their careers in their early 20s.
Newsome was one of three players selected out of 68 to receive a contract with the Whalers. He’ll live with a local family for the next year and play in games up and down the east coast from September through March.
“I felt like I was doing pretty good during the tryouts,” Newsome said. “Then the coaches pulled me aside and asked if I could play all five matches that were scheduled that day, instead of just the three I was scheduled to play in. That was a good sign.”
Newsome earned the nickname “wheels” playing for the Carolina Lightning then the Carolina Junior Hurricanes while in high school. His speed has been a constant weapon.
“He’s always been the fastest one on whatever team he was on,” said Kyle’s mom, Gina Newsome.
He started playing competitively at age 5 and slowly shifted his focus solely to hockey after playing baseball and basketball growing up.
“When I first started playing, once I learned how to skate, it really felt natural,” Kyle Newsome said.
Now, he’ll shift his focus on earning a shot with an upper level college team or maybe even professionally. The Junior Whalers have a proven track record of success in that area, sending nearly three dozen players onto the college or professional ranks.
“Now I can focus on my goal,” Newsome said, “earning a scholarship or moving up through the junior ranks.”
Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest