Alex Killorn was one of the most highly-touted prep school players coming into college hockey this season, and he hasn’t disappointed.
The dynamic center came to Harvard University after a successful career at Deerfield Academy that saw him post 55 points (28 goals, 27 assists) in 24 games and be named the team’s MVP as well as to the All-New England West team in 2007-08. When Killorn stepped into the Crimson lineup this past fall, his impact was felt immediately.
“From the moment that Alex arrived, he’s been an impact player for us,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato. “He’s certainly an offensive catalyst that we rely on to jumpstart our offense. He’s a guy that not only is tough to cover and is great offensively, but he also makes other players around him better when he distributes the puck too. Alex has always been a key offensive contributor and I think at this level he has a chance to be a real factor to be reckoned with. He’s gotten better throughout the year and I think the sky is really the limit for his offensive abilities.”
Killorn was born in Nova Scotia, and later moved to Montreal. Like many other talented, young Canadian boys, Killorn had the opportunity to play major junior hockey. In 2005, the Shawinigan Cataractes selected him in the QMJHL Entry Draft. And while the 15-year-old did give some consideration to going the major junior route, Killorn had his heart set on eventually playing college hockey.
“At that point, I was still trying to decide if I was going to go to prep school or go play major junior hockey, even though I knew in the back of my head that I was going to take the prep school route," he said. "I went to the major junior camp, and it was a great experience just seeing that lifestyle, but once I was there I knew that I was going to play college hockey and take that route. For my progress and development as a player, I felt that the route that I took has definitely been beneficial for me. I’ve been happy with my choice ever since and have never looked back.”
While at Deerfield Academy, Killorn began to get the attention of a number of the country’s top college programs including Boston College and Boston University. In addition, other Ivy League schools such as Cornell, Dartmouth and Yale had heavily recruited him as well. But Killorn chose Harvard long before they began recruiting him.
“Before I even got to Deerfield, I came to Harvard just to take the tour and they didn’t really know much about me," he recalled. "They just gave me a tour and were really nice about everything. At that point, I told myself that this was the school that I really want to go to. Two years later, they actually showed some interest and came to watch me play. So I made my decision right then and there that I wanted to come to Harvard. I love the city and I really liked Coach Donato and the experience that he has. So those factors really helped in my decision to pick Harvard.”
So what has it been like for Killorn to play for head coach Ted Donato?
“It’s actually been great because of all of his experience as a player and a coach," Killorn said. "When he comes to practice, he’ll show us a few tricks here and there, especially on the power play because he’s had so much experience in the NHL playing for something like 14 years. He helps you out with the little things that maybe other coaches won’t normally pick up on.”
Killorn is an intelligent center with good size who will become even more dominant as he strengthens his 6’1 frame. He possesses great offensive abilities and has a top-notch shot. He is strong on the puck and sets up plays well. He skates with good speed and plays with a bit of an edge to his game.
Coming into the final weekend of Harvard’s regular season, Killorn leads the Crimson in rookie scoring with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 26 games. He also leads Harvard with five power-play goals. Of his 13 points, 10 have come in ECAC league play. He earned his lone ECAC Rookie of the Week honor on the season on Nov. 24 after posting three combined points (one goal, two assists) in the Crimson’s three contests versus Brown, Cornell and Colgate that week.
One of Killorn’s most memorable games came earlier this month on Feb. 2 in the Beanpot tournament semi-final versus Boston University. Though the Terriers would eventually hand the Crimson a heartbreaking 3-4 loss, it would come well after Killorn’s terrific power-play goal in the middle stanza.
“It was at the beginning of the second period and they had taken two penalties just before that,” Killorn described. “So we had a five-on-three. It was actually a weird situation because I think one of their defensemen fell in the corner, so they only had two players in front. I had the puck and just decided to take a shot. I guess I got lucky because it snuck in under the goalie’s glove.”
What may surprise some that are familiar with the intense Harvard-Cornell rivalry is that Killorn actually likes playing in the hostile environment of Cornell’s Lynah Rink. He lists St. Lawrence’s Appleton Arena and Colgate’s Starr Rink as the worst road rinks to play in. He also lists Boston University’s Colin Wilson (NAS) as the best collegiate player that he has played against.
All freshmen go through a time of adjusting to the pace and rigors of the college game. While Killorn was able to make an immediate impact on his Harvard team, there were some areas where the adjustment was more difficult than others, most notably the speed of the collegiate game.
“It’s definitely a jump at first when you get here because you don’t really know what to expect," he said. "But once you’re here and skating, you realize that it’s really a different league. It’s actually when you go back and see a prep game that you see just how slow it is compared to the college game. So it was definitely a step above what I was used to. For me, the biggest jump was just getting stronger and doing everything a little bit quicker on the ice. Once you get that figured out, then everything just comes naturally after that.”
“Alex has made the adjustment well, but he still continues to make the adjustment,” added Donato. “He has gotten by on his physical talents, size and strength, but as he becomes more aware of things like body positioning and how to use his hockey sense to also help his offensive output, he’ll be even better. I think that’s a part of the maturing process for any good young player, especially a good offensive player, which Alex is.”
His versatility has greatly benefited his team. Though he is a natural centerman, Killorn has actually played all three forward positions quite effectively this year. One reason that he has been moved around is due to key injuries that the Crimson has had to contend with over the course of the season. As Donato explains, Killorn’s versatility and his ability to make those around him better have made him a valuable component of his hockey team.
“There’s no doubt that Alex has been a key ingredient for us. I think he’s developed so well because of his ability to play in all three forward positions and being able to make a line better from all three different positions. Alex is a guy even if we were (completely) healthy, we felt was going to be a big impact guy for us. I think with the injuries, it only became more of a reason to lean on Alex and his talents.”
One area where Killorn has worked and continues to work diligently to improve has been in his physical development. While he has the size (6’1/195) to become an excellent player at both the collegiate and pro levels, strength continues to be a work in progress and one that will be crucial to his future success.
“Right now, I think every little part of my game is going to have to be better, such as my strength because you always want to be stronger,” said Killorn. “I have a few years here, which will definitely help my strength development. We’re in the weight room all the time, so that’ll definitely help me get stronger and hopefully make it to the next level.”
Like any other young player that has aspirations of one day playing in the NHL, Killorn has developed a year-round workout routine. In the past he has worked with personal trainers, but with the regimen set forth by Dan Perlmutter, Harvard’s strength and conditioning coach, Killorn’s workouts have been almost exclusively at the university and with his teammates.
“When I was younger, I always had a trainer help me, but now I work out with several of my teammates because we all know the program and it’s just natural for us. My workouts are much different in the summer than they are during the season. For example, during the season, we may have two or three days of lifting per week. We’re not going too heavy on that just because we don’t want to tire ourselves out before the weekend games. So we’ll do some lifts like power clean and maybe hang clean one day. We also do bench pressing and a lot of core workout, as well as a lot of other things to help our endurance on the ice. In the summer, you’re lifting a lot more and lifting as hard as you can to gain more weight and more muscle. Here at Harvard during the summer, we do sled work outside, where you just attach a sled to your midsection and just try to run with it. We try to get outside as much as possible to work on a lot of speed stuff that we can’t work on in the gym too. I also have a skating treadmill at home. It’s a treadmill that you can skate on and that gives me a pretty good workout. It also helps my stride too.”
Aside from his physical development, Killorn is also currently working to strengthen two other important areas – his defensive game and making quicker decisions.
“I’m working on defensive zone play because I think it can always improve that. I’m also working on making quicker decisions too, but the thing is it is so tough to improve on that because you get used to the league that you’re playing in and even though you know that the next league up is going to be even quicker, you just try to play as well as you can in the league that you’re in now. When I get the puck, I’m always thinking how could I be quicker with it or what can I do to have a better chance of scoring? So I’m working on that to not only be a better player at this level, but also to be ready at the next level as well.”
So how does Killorn describe himself as a player?
“I definitely think that I’m a playmaking type of player that sees the ice well. I’d like to think that I can score the goals as well as make the passes and plays that’ll help my team win by using my speed or my shot or whatever else that I can. I think that I can also be a game-changing player too.”
In the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Killorn in the third round (77th overall). Though he was at the NHL Combine that year, he did not attend the draft. Killorn recalls one of the most exciting moments of his life.
“That’s probably the highlight of my career thus far. That summer, I was invited to the Combine. When I was there, I had interviews with probably 20 teams. So it was definitely new and very exciting. I knew that Tampa Bay was interested in me. They actually wanted to have a meeting with me at the draft, but I wasn’t there, so I couldn’t do it. I was actually at home in my basement. My family and I were watching it TV on the NHL Network. I knew that I was going to go somewhere. I just didn’t know where. My mom didn’t want to watch because she was getting all nervous about it. I got the phone call right before it happened. When you’re growing up, you spend your whole life thinking that it is a possibility that you’ll be drafted, but when it becomes reality, it’s just the most exciting thing. It was certainly one of the most exciting moments in my life. It just goes to show you that all of the work that you put into the sport really can pay off.”
Killorn attended the Lightning’s prospects camp this past summer and had the opportunity to play alongside one of the most recognizable names on the team’s roster this season.
“I went to their camp last summer in Victoria, BC. They had new owners so they were trying to have a real good camp lined up. I got to play with a lot of great players there. I played on a line with Steven Stamkos at one point, so it was a really good experience and something that has helped me this year at Harvard. One area that it helped me was with things having to do with speed. A lot of these (college) guys who were there were telling me all about the college game, the speed of the college game and what I had to do to succeed.”
The Lightning have since kept a close eye on their budding centerman too.
“They’ve seen me play a few times. I get an email probably once a week from one of their scouts asking me how my games over the weekend went and how I did. And not all of the questions that they ask me are hockey-related either. They really want to make sure that I’m taking care of my schoolwork and that everything is being done properly as well. So they do a good job of keeping in contact with me.”
Killorn cites Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin as his favorite NHL player, but it is a fellow Nova Scotia-born player that he tries to pattern his style of play after.
“I try to model my after game Sidney Crosby because I really admire what he has done in the short time that he’s been in the league with his leadership, his skills and all. He is definitely a good role model for kids with his team play and stuff like that. So I try to be like that too.”
While you may know Killorn as a talented hockey player, what you might not know about him is the fact that he is also an avid and accomplished golfer as well. In addition to playing for Deerfield Academy’s hockey team, Killorn also played for their golf team, helping to guide them to an undefeated season last year.
So does how much does he follow the sport?
“I try to follow it as best as I can. I usually just watch all of the major events. My favorite player is Adam Scott. I think he’s a really good golfer.”
As Harvard heads into the ECAC post-season next week, they’ll be looking to position themselves to try and win the ECAC Tournament championship and the coveted NCAA tournament automatic bid that goes with it. One player that will continue to play an important role towards achieving that goal is Alex Killorn. But with three more years of eligibility still on the horizon, head coach Ted Donato sees many more great things to come from his gifted young forward and what he can contribute to the future success of the Harvard Crimson.
“I think Alex has got a lot of the tools that will allow him to have a great amount of success at the NHL level," Donato said. "He has been able to get by on his pure physical tools to get to this level, now we’re asking him to also use and develop his hockey I.Q. I think Alex has come a long way with really understanding the game, and as he continues to improve in that area, matched with his natural physical tools, I think there will be an even more tremendous upside to his game in general and certainly to his offensive output as well. We expect Alex to be an even more of a key guy for us in the future. He’s already a very key for us now, but as he becomes more comfortable and continues to improve and develop, we think that he’s a guy that can really be effective and have a large impact on our success. Alex is a big part of what we see as a bright future for our team and we’ll push him hard to reach his potential as soon as possible.”