It’s been a big sports year for Harvard alums. There was Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 quarterbacking his way into the hearts of Bills fans and being rewarded with a $59 million contract. There was Matt Birk ’98 continuing a stellar career with the Baltimore Ravens and being named the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. And of course, there was Jeremy Lin ’10 reenergizing the New York Knicks and spreading bad, vaguely racist, puns across the nation.
All three of these stories were noteworthy in their own right. But their cultural relevance was enhanced by the novelty involved: a quarterback from a hyper-academic FCS program making it big in the NFL, a thinking man excelling at a position – offensive line – that is often characterized as brutish, a point guard from a school and team that had not even won a conference title in the Ivy League in over half a century.
Amidst all of this, there was the continuation of Crimson athletic success in more traditional arenas, including the start of a professional hockey career for Harvard senior attack man Alex Killorn. Killorn, who just signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL on March 19, will be joining a long tradition of Harvard alums in the NHL including friend and former teammate Louis Leblanc, formerly ’13, of the Montreal Canadiens.
“It might be a coincidence that all these Harvard athletes are finding success professionally in the same year,” Killorn said. “But it’s obviously emblematic of athletics at Harvard just growing stronger as the years go by. I know Harvard takes a lot of pride in its athletics, and we have young guys like Louis Leblanc excelling in addition to the more famous examples like Lin. I’m just excited about getting the chance to be part of that tradition.”
Killorn is currently in Norfolk, Va., playing for the Lightning-affiliated Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League. Assuming he can work his way up and find a spot as a dressing member of the Lightning’s 20-man roster, Killorn would be the 26th former Crimson hockey player to see time on the ice in the NHL. Killorn is set to finish his course requirements and graduate with the Class of 2012 in May.
“I’m not going to speculate about fitting myself into their team, I’m just going to try and play to the best of my abilities,” Killorn said. “I’m trying not to focus on stuff that’s out of my control. Instead I’m going to work as hard as I can, and hopefully I’ll get a shot.”
A prolific scorer during his time at Harvard, Killorn leaves the Crimson with 53 goals and 109 points—both of which are the most for a Harvard skater since the early 2000s. In addition, Killorn capped off his Crimson career with first-team All-ECAC and first-team All-Ivy honors in 2011-12, and finished fourth in the nation with 0.68 goals per game. He also helped catalyze a late-season run that propelled Harvard all the way to the ECAC finals and the first winning-season since 2007-08.
“This last month has been great, especially to go as far as we did, all the way to the ECAC finals,” Killorn said. “We started the year a little rough but ended it competing in the finals with a team [Union] that has a real chance at being the national champion. Especially considering the lack of team success that had kind of defined my four years at Harvard, it was great to kind of turn it around and to really end on a high note.”
With seven other members of the Crimson having already been drafted by NHL teams, Killorn and Leblanc can serve as ready examples of what is possible for athletes coming out of Harvard.
That said, there are no guarantees. Leblanc seems to have established himself for the foreseeable future, playing in 37 games for the last-place Canadiens, but the future is less certain for Killorn, who will have to prove his worth in the upcoming season.
“I’m definitely excited to sign a contract and start my pro career,” Killorn said. “Norfolk is a great place to start, and hopefully I can work my way up. It’s something you obviously dream of when you’re young—this is the pinnacle of the sport.”
The road ahead for Killorn will be an exciting one, but one that is not uncharted for Crimson alums. We ought to remember that the hockey program continues to churn out athletes in a way few other Crimson sports have.
—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.