Plum native, 'Coach' Umberger proud of hometown
R.J. Umberger was feeling a bit sour after his alma mater, Ohio State, was stunned at the Three Rivers Classic by Penn State.
Still, the Plum native was able to see a bigger picture.
Youth hockey is booming in Pittsburgh, and college hockey is becoming a bigger deal. The first blue-chip hockey prospect to emerge from Western Pennsylvania couldn't be prouder.
“Just looking around today and seeing all the hockey fans in the building was great,” Umberger said. “I can definitely say that things are a lot different now than when I was coming up. This is a great youth hockey town now.”
Umberger was drafted 16th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, Western Pennsylvania has emerged as one of the nation's more fertile recruiting areas, as highlighted by four local players being selected in the first 64 picks of the 2011 draft.
“It has been special to see how things have changed, and I loved seeing the enthusiasm for the college games this week,” he said.
Umberger has been keeping himself busy during the NHL lockout in a unique way.
The former Ohio State star plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Thanks to the proximity to campus, Umberger decided to take advantage of his free time by helping out with the Buckeyes.
He was behind the bench during Ohio State's two games at Consol Energy Center this week.
“Being around these college kids has really been great for me,” Umberger said. “Of course at the same time, being around hockey all the time has made me miss playing the game even more. But still, it's been a great situation for me. Just working out with them is keeping me in shape, and getting an opportunity to work with them has really been great.”
Umberger does not have a specific role on the coaching staff but has worked with the forwards extensively.
Ohio State remains dear to Umberger.
“I'm a very proud Buckeye,” he said. “And I'm really very lucky to be playing in Columbus. It's a great city, and Ohio State is there. It's a really perfect situation for me.”
Of course, before Umberger knew anything about Ohio State or Columbus, he was a Pittsburgher.
“This was a great week for Pittsburgh hockey,” he said. “Having Penn State around is going to make it even better. Things are looking up for hockey in this city.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.