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Harvard grad Killorn making Lightning look smart these days

TAMPA, Fla. -- Even though he’s a Harvard guy, don’t ask Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn about advanced statistics, economics or stereotypical movies about his university.

He’ll admit to not knowing too much about any of those subjects. His focus right now is the Stanley Cup playoffs. He and his teammates have a 2-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals, with Game 4 on Friday at 8 p.m. ET at Amalie Arena.

No doubt Killorn is a smart person on and off the ice, and his educational background is a big reason the 25-year-old is having success in the NHL.

A native of Montreal, Killorn attended Deerfield Academy in western Massachusetts because a childhood friend went there. Even before he arrived on campus at Deerfield, the school’s coaching staff knew Killorn and his parents were focused primarily on education. During his two years (2006-08) there, he did not have to sacrifice his level of play while getting a great education.

On the ice, Killorn was just as dedicated as he was in the classroom.

“He had a tremendous work ethic,” said Deerfield boys' hockey coach Brendan Creagh. “The thing about Alex is he doesn’t like to lose at anything -- pingpong, a small-games drill, it didn’t matter. If somebody stole the puck from him in a practice, he would do everything he could to get it back. He’s just got an incredible work ethic and determination to his game.”

The Lightning then selected Killorn in the third round (77th overall) in the 2007 draft. He knew he wasn’t ready to turn pro and his parents, especially his mother, urged him to continue his education.

“My mom was pretty big into that,” said Killorn. “My dad, at one point, he wanted me to go to the Q [the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League]. They were accepting. They wanted me to do what I wanted to do, but my mom definitely had a big influence. She’s a schoolteacher and realizes the opportunities that would open up for me, not realizing I can be in the NHL. I still think she’s happier that I’m a Harvard graduate than I’m playing in the NHL, to be honest.”

Based on his academic and athletic achievements at Deerfield, Killorn could have picked any college he wanted. His choices were Harvard, Yale, Boston College and Boston University. His final two choices were BC and Harvard.

“Once I went to Deerfield, I knew Massachusetts was somewhere I wanted to be, and Harvard was definitely my No. 1 pick. I loved Harvard,” Killorn said.

He played four seasons for the Crimson and graduated in May 2012.

“It was a good experience,” Killorn said. “I don’t think I was really like most guys to jump into pro hockey after two years. I needed the full four years. [Steve] Yzerman, these guys, didn’t really pressure me to leave, so it was huge for me to get those four years of development.”

While at Harvard, Killorn started as an economics major, eventually earning a degree in government. On the ice, he had a solid career and earned ECAC first-team accolades his senior year.

“It’s different," Killorn said. "As an athlete, you don’t get paid as much attention to as you would if you went to, say, a Michigan or something like that. School-wise, it was actually pretty tough at the start to kind of balance everything. After a while, you kind of get used to it. You go to practice, then you go home and have to write a 12-page paper. I’m really happy I don’t have to do that anymore. You just focus on hockey.”

Under the tutelage of coach Ted Donato, who also graduated from Harvard, and then played 796 games in the NHL, Killorn learned what it would take to become a pro hockey player. Donato will actually be in attendance for Game 4 Friday at Amalie Arena.

“I loved playing for Teddy," Killorn said. "Whenever you have a guy that has that kind of experience, and he would help me out a ton with just little things, helping me on my process of becoming a pro.”

During the spring of his senior year, after his collegiate career ended, Killorn began his pro career with the Norfolk Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Lightning. The Admirals were in the Calder Cup playoffs, and the team swept St. John’s in the Eastern Conference finals. Then-Norfolk coach Jon Cooper allowed Killorn to return to Harvard to attend his graduation.

“That was special for me,” Killorn said.

He rejoined the Admirals, and the team finished with a four-game sweep of the Toronto Marlies to win the Calder Cup.

During his career with the Lightning, it’s safe to say the talents of the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Killorn have flown under the radar a bit, especially with the likes of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov on the team. The “Triplets Line” has dominated headlines during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Killorn has been an integral part of the team’s success. He has six goals and eight assists for 14 points in 16 playoff games this spring.

During Game 5 of Tampa’s second-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, Cooper decided to tweak his line combinations a bit, so he put Killorn, Valtteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos together. It’s worked.

“He’s like a gazelle,” Cooper said. “He’s just one of those guys that makes everybody around him better.”

Stamkos concurred.

“Killer has been great. He’s still young, but he’s not one of those young guys anymore,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s played in this league for a while now. He knows what it takes, and he’s playing with confidence. That’s such a big thing in this league and you definitely want it at this time of the year. He has that. You see it on the goal he scored [in Game 3]. We got a good thing going with our line right now, and Killer is a big part of that because of his speed and his size. He uses that very well and it’s effective."

While his NHL teammates and coaches have witnessed firsthand Killorn’s success at this level, none of what he has accomplished is a surprise to those who knew him at Deerfield Academy.

“He really is just a down-to-earth, quality young man, and to me that’s the most important thing,” Creagh said. “Not everybody that plays at Deerfield ends up playing in the NHL, so I’m as proud of the fact that Alex is just a great guy. He does a lot in the community. He does a lot of outreach to school communities, telling about his story, about education, and I’m as proud of that as I am about the beautiful goal he had [in Game 3]. He’s just a great guy, and we celebrate that as much as we do his level of play.”

To his Deerfield Academy teammates, Killorn is highly regarded.

“As far as leadership goes, he’s a kid that brings it every single day in practice,” said Drew Philie, a former Deerfield teammate. “More importantly, he made others around him better. Not just as players, but also as people and dedication to the sport and doing well in school. He always supported everyone and was a lot of fun to play with.

“He’s just a great person and teammate, and he’s representing his family and Deerfield Academy in the right ways. He’s a real special guy. He’s having a great career and great playoffs so far. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

Not bad for a wicked-smart kid from Harvard.