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Courtnall Brings Family's Diverse Successes to Wheeling

Friday, February 5th
Courtnall Brings Family's Diverse Successes to Wheeling

Wheeling Nailers rookie Lawton Courtnall got his start in hockey around the same time as everyone else did. “When his dad [former NHLer Russ Courtnall]  was still playing, I actually took him to one of the local rinks in Los Angeles and said ‘okay it’s time for you to get on skates and learn how to skate,” his mother, Paris Vaughan Courtnall laughed, “so we went with one of my good friends and her son. We didn’t even know how to lace up skates and we took them out there.” 

The 6-foot forward has certainly grown from his first strides in LA and started playing in Victoria, BC. “We lived right down the street from my uncle [Geoff Courtnall] and he has two sons who were a little bit older than me, but they were kind of like my older brothers growing up; I spent a lot of time with them.” Courtnall stated, “They were both playing hockey, so that’s kind of what made me really want to get into the game. My parents signed me up at the local rink, it’s actually the same rink my dad grew up playing at so I just started there and never looked back.”

Courtnall’s father and uncle played a combined 2,078 in the NHL, his mother was an actress appearing in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, his sister Ally won an NCAA national championship with UCLA soccer, but success in his family didn’t start there. His maternal grandmother, jazz musician Sarah Vaughan, has been cited as ‘one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century.’ Garnering four Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989, which is given to "performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.” His grandmother’s accolades also include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, inductions into the American Jazz Hall of Fame, Grammy Hall of Fame, and New Jersey Hall of Fame.

“Growing up, I didn’t know much about her success and stuff. I knew that she was very famous, but I didn’t really comprehend it until 5 years ago when she was honored with her own US Postal Stamp,” he explained, “Me, my mom and my two sisters, we flew to Newark, NJ for the ceremony and once we walked into the building, I couldn’t believe how many people were there and crying in the audience. It was just insane how many lives she touched and still to this day, how big of an influence she is on people and other musicians. It was really cool to see how big she was for some people.” 

His grandmother’s success soared from Newark. His mother described that the city has always been great and she was very proud to be from Newark and to have grown up there, “as a kid, you don’t see the bad,” Mrs. Courtnall’s mother made the decision for their family to leave during the Newark Riots in the summer of 1967.Four decades later in 2007, the New Jersey Devils would call downtown Newark their new home. “When we went back for the stamp, I hadn’t been there in a while and it’s just really beautiful what they’ve done there, it’s tremendous... to have a hockey team there--wow, that’s great.”

With hockey teams moving and expanding into new areas, this allows for diversity within the sport to grow. “Growing up, I always had a few teams I’d play on where’d there be one other black kid on the team, but coming into Wheeling, I think we have four. And it’s just so cool to see just how diverse this sport is getting,” the rookie explained, “Like, look at this year’s NHL draft: the second overall pick Quinton Byfield’s black and he’s the highest black player ever picked. It’s just really cool to see the direction the sport is going and I love that. I love being on a team where we have more than one or two guys, so it’s really cool to be a part of.” 

When asked about his favorite player growing up, Courtnall’s smile widened, “I always loved Jarome Iginla growing up. When I was younger, I chose number 12 because of him and they gave me number 12 when I got to Wheeling so it’s kind of funny. He was a guy that I looked at and he looked like me. I saw that he was in the NHL and obviously doing really well so it was really cool.”

With the NHL’s expansion of their Hockey is for Everyone campaign, more awareness around the sport and more diversity among team rosters, this is only the beginning. “I think it’s just going to keep growing all over the world and different types of people are going to start picking it up,” Courtnall continued, “Going back to what I said about Byfield, it’s a huge step not only for the black community, but also the League as a whole. It’s really cool to see and I just think you’re going to see more and more players are going to be coming out and being really good players and it’s going to be amazing.”

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