Kyleigh Grugin’s love for hockey has come with sacrifices.
She’s bypassing her senior season of soccer at Greenback High School, leaving her teammates, friends, and parents and moving to Erie, Penn., to live with her grandparents and play travel hockey.
Her new classmates will be at Erie’s Harbor Creek High, where she will graduate in 2019 before playing women’s college hockey at Oswego State (SUNY-Oswego) in Oswego, N.Y., on Lake Ontario.
It’s not the first time Grugin will have left Greenback to play club hockey. After Greenback’s soccer season ended last fall, she moved to Pittsburgh and lived with a family she hardly knew to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite travel team.
She took online classes to complete her junior year of high school.
“It was scary at first because I only met the family once, so I really didn’t know what to expect, and just having to leave all your friends and my parents,” Grugin said last week. “It was hard, because it was like, ‘I’m growing up, but not really.’ I mean, it was a lot. Some people might think it’s dumb because I left everything just to go play hockey, but it was worth it to me.”
Grugin won’t be the first athlete from Greenback to play college hockey.
Her older of two brothers, Nate, plays for Westfield State in Westfield, Conn. Her other brother, Noah, doesn’t play hockey.
Kyleigh grew up at the ice rink – although not playing hockey.
Her parents, David and Cheryl Grugin, were from Erie before the family moved to Greenback when Kyleigh was a young child. She remembers watching Nate play hockey at Cool Sports/Icearium in Farragut as a 3-year-old figure-skater.
“I started watching my brother, and I got really bored with figure skating,” Grugin said. “I just told my parents when I was 4, ‘I want to play hockey. I don’t want to figure skate, it’s boring.’ And I was just jealous of my brother.”
Grugin played for the Ice Bears boys’ travel team, based out of the Icearium, until she was 10 when she was contacted and joined an all-girls travel team based in Susquehanna, Penn. She played the next five years for a team in Columbus, Ohio, before joining the team in Pittsburgh last fall for the 2017-18 season.
After years of traveling to practices and tournaments – sometimes flying, oftentimes driving – Kyleigh realized last year it was time to go full bore with her hockey career.
“Now it’s more of a commitment thing,” she said. “If you want to play, you’ve got to move up there.”
Grugin, a forward, will be playing the highest level of NCAA Division III hockey at Oswego State. Last year, the Lakers reached the championship game of the first-ever Northeast Women’s Hockey League (NEWHL) before losing to SUNY-Plattsburgh, eventual third-place finisher in the NCAA Division III tournament.
“I’m really excited because I went on a bunch of college visits all of last year, and when I got there (Oswego State), I knew it was the one,” Grugin said. “I’m just really excited. Their ice rink is phenomenal. If you ask any hockey player, they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s the best D-3 ice rink in the world.’ It really is, and everything is so nice about the school. I’m super excited to go there.”
Grugin is spending the summer in Greenback and training at Pro Vision Hockey Academy in Lenoir City. Pro Vision’s owner and head instructor is Bryan Hince, who played at SUNY-Plattsburgh (2007-09) before a six-year career as a goalie with the Knoxville Ice Bears (2010-16).
“It’s really nice,” Grugin said of Pro Vision. “It’s convenient actually, especially over the summer training because I can actually train during the summer. Like last year, it was all on me. I had to do it all by myself, but now that he has his place, it’s a lot easier.”
Grugin leaves for Erie later this month to live with her grandparents, Barb and John Lyle.
She will return for holidays, visit family and friends, and work a couple of Knoxville Ice Bears game as an “Ice Girl,” a job she started in 2013.
Saying good-bye to Greenback again won’t be easy.
“It’s actually really hard because I was hoping to stay here and play my senior year of soccer at Greenback because that’s what I did last year, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to,” she said.
Grugin is realistic about her hockey career. It stops not long after college. She plans to join the ROTC at Oswego State and pursue a career in the military. Her father, uncle, and cousins are all in the Air Force.
“It’s not like boys where you can keep going on forever with hockey,” Grugin said. “There aren’t many pro teams (for women).”
She’s got at least five more good years of hockey to go, though.