Since the day Mike Kuras laced up his first pair of skates, it has been hard to keep him away from an ice rink.
And if it's up to the junior at Riverside Brookfield High School, he'll be lacing up his skates for a professional franchise in the near future.
"I learned how to skate when I was 8 years old, and I haven't stopped since," Kuras said. "My dad played high school hockey and was the one who got me involved in hockey. I just love everything about it."
Kuras recently wrapped up his second state title in four years when the defenseman helped Team Illinois to the Blackhawk Cup AAA state crown.
"Winning my first state title two years ago is something I'll never forget," said Kuras, who will play for Chicago Young American in the fall. "Over the past couple of years, I have really been working hard to improve and I can see the improvement."
Kuras' devotion to the game is one reason why his stock continues to rise.
"Ice rinks are like my second home," Kuras said. "I go to school, work at my family's bakery and then go to practice. I spend a lot of time at the rink, but I love it."
The 5-10, 165-pound star has been able to stay injury-free for the most part, which is what has helped keep Kuras' mother smiling.
"I blew out my right knee a couple years ago when I blocked a shot, but I wasn't out that long," Kuras said. "My mom says she worries about me, but I think she handles everything pretty well.
"This is the only game where one second you could be skating, and then the next second on your butt sliding on the ice. The speed of the game is what I love the most about hockey."
The Riverside resident also has learned how to budget his time. Between school, work and practice, some people don't realize how often youth hockey players in Illinois travel for games.
"Hockey isn't that big in Illinois at all-especially high school hockey," Kuras said. "We travel to states like Michigan eight or nine times to play teams from all over the Midwest."
The travel cost along with the equipment has added up for Kuras and Co. over the years.
"I work for my dad, so it works out," said Kuras, when asked who flips the bill for new equipment and travel. "I probably go through nine or 10 sticks, and they cost between $55 to $160 apiece. It gets expensive."
While the popularity of hockey has struggled recently because of the NHL strike, Kuras believes there are a lot of people who don't understand the game.
"It doesn't bother me if other people don't like hockey," Kuras said. "A lot of people think that hockey is all about fighting, but it isn't.
"It's the fastest game on the planet. If you just sit up in the stands and watch, you can see how everything develops."
Kuras, who also used to play football before giving it up to concentrate on hockey year-round, plans on playing Division I some day.
"I want to play college hockey and then professional hockey," Kuras said. "I have put a lot of time into hockey.
"There are times when I spend six hours at practice working on everything. The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville has been like a second home to me the past couple of years, and now the American Heartland Ice Arena will be my new home because I'm moving to a new team."
When he isn't on the ice, at school or work, Kuras just likes to "hang out and relax."
"I'm in the weight room with friends or just relaxing when I have free time," Kuras said. "I also like to read anything, too. It's just hard to find time to read."