Get to know our first ever Cover Athlete of the Year
He was the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft. Was the Calder Trophy recipient in 2006 as Rookie of the Year. Three times, he was named Most Valuable Player. Led the league in goals nine times. Won the Stanley Cup in 2018 and has been the Washington Capitals’ captain for 12 seasons.
This summer, Alex Ovechkin was also named the Cover Athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 21 (for the second time in his career, appearing on NHL 07 as well). Similarly, the World Hockey Hub embarked on a search for our own cover athlete; one that would proudly represent all of youth hockey across our website and social media channels. That search ran through the entire month of December, receiving hundreds of applications from athletes around the world before settling on one player to be featured throughout 2021.
On January 1st, WHH unveiled its first ever Cover Athlete of the Year in C.J. Kier, a 2004-birth year goaltender from Colorado, currently playing for Northstar Christian Academy.
“It was really surprising and exciting,” said Kier. “Me being not that well known of a goaltender to be able to see my name and my picture on something like World Hockey Hub is really special for me and motivates me to work harder. It’s really cool.”
Originally from Parker, Colorado, a city southeast of Denver with a population of about 55,000, Kier grew up with season tickets to nearby Denver University and the Colorado Avalanche. That ignited his passion for the sport and ultimately led to his first foray into the game with the DU Pioneers youth program. On the ice playing hockey by four-years-old, but the goalie position didn’t come until a little later, around the 10U level.
“I’d always loved goalies, I thought they looked cool,” he said. “I played baseball, I wanted to be a catcher because it was the closest thing I could be to a goalie.”
After playing the majority of his youth hockey in the Denver area for programs like DU and the Colorado Thunderbirds, Kier took his game out-of-state. At 16-years-old, he left home to fast-tracked his maturation process, living on his own at Northstar Christian Academy in Alexandria, Minnesota.
Living more than 850 miles from home, the pressure of a difficult decision was made a little bit easier by the process.
“It was a big decision,” Kier said. “It was tough for my dad because I live mostly with my dad. I’ve been with him for the past six years. Obviously for my mom too. It was difficult for them to let me go but because of where I was going — my dad had met the coaches and staff — [they] knew I was going to a good place. I’d learn how to live away from home. That’s one of the things they teach us is preparing us for juniors.”
Last summer was the first time 2004-born players were eligible to be selected into the United States Hockey League (USHL), however, Kier was not amongst the seven goaltenders selected during the Phase-I process in May. Since then, though, Kier has posted an 12-2-0 record for Northstar, with a 1.72 goals-against average and .938 save percentage while playing in the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL).
At Northstar, Kier has gotten the opportunity to work closely with the team’s goalie coach, Pete Samargia. A valuable resource to Kier, Samargia also serves as goalie coach to the Dubuque Saints in the USHL and St. Cloud Norsemen in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). That relationship has been integral in Kier’s development as he works towards his goal of playing junior hockey one day.
“I wasn’t expecting to get drafted [last year],” he said. “Not getting drafted, it’s definitely lit a fire in me. It’s definitely helped me play how I’ve been playing and give me confidence that someone’s always watching.”
His days are packed, planned from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week, on the ice twice a day with school and workouts mixed in between. One very specific goal in mind, Kier works towards that dream of playing in the USHL, with hopes of college hockey on the horizon one day as well.
A bright future certainly lies ahead for him, whether it be in the rink or out. As the first Cover Athlete in youth hockey, Kier represents not just himself and his team well, but one that the World Hockey Hub proudly puts at the forefront of the sport as well.