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Brian King: A road less traveled
Chris Mast

 

 

When Brian King was drafted by the Everett Silvertips in May 2014, he wasn’t exactly sure what that meant or where that road was going to take him. Punch the throttle and cruise ahead three years, the 18-year-old product of Golden, Colo., is about to hit the Autobahn as his life shifts into a completely new gear.

Monday afternoon, the Silvertips announced the retirement of the 2017 WHL Scholastic Player of the Year after he accepted a prestigious Presidential Scholar’s award from the University of Alabama, opting to pursue a double degree in Mechanical Engineering and German, complete with an international exchange to Esslingen University of Applied Sciences in Germany and an internship with renowned automaker Mercedes Benz.

King’s exciting academic endeavours will be supported by benefits of the WHL Scholarship, which he earned over the course of two seasons with the Silvertips organization.

“Some people think going in… they don’t imagine education with hockey,” King said. “At the same time, the [Western Hockey] League really puts a lot of emphasis into education and the players take it serious as well. That’s great to see and it really helped me achieve what I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

“[Everett] is a great place to play, it’s a great place to be. All the fans are very supportive, even with what I’m doing now… The past three years I’ve been there, the fans have been amazing, the community has been amazing to us and the organization has really helped me put this all together. I couldn’t have done it without [the Silvertips] as well as the WHL Scholarship program, which has helped me as well.”

Having just graduated from Everett High School, earning valedictorian honours – only the second player in WHL history to do so – with a 4.0 grade-point average and 1,490 score on his SATs, it isn’t that long ago King was trying to figure out exactly what track he should be laying rubber on.

As an American-born hockey player, King had plenty of options to consider back in May 2014 when the Silvertips called his name in the fourth round (82nd overall) of the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft. Like many U.S.-developed players, the NCAA route was heavily involved in conversations as the well-spoken young man evaluated what he needed to do in order to set himself up for a lifetime of success – be that on the ice, off the ice, or in an ideal world, both.

On April 15, 2015, King came to his decision, putting pen to paper with the Silvertips, turning a key that kick-started a successful, but in many ways, unheralded WHL career.

“The WHL focuses on education, probably more than the NCAA does,” King said. “The connotation in the U.S. is you go to NCAA and you get a degree, too, or you go to the WHL and you either make it [in hockey] or you’re done. But that’s not how it is at all.

“A big reason I came up [to the WHL] was because they gave me the opportunity to be able to put time into my studies and really focus on hockey. Now, as things change, I can put all my emphasis into my education. I don’t have to try and work on a degree at the same time as balancing the sport. If you’re splitting [priorities] 50-50 per cent, you’re not going to excel at either.”

The 6-foot, 181-pound centre went on to play 122 career WHL regular season games. He amassed 27 points (8G-19A) with a plus-6 rating along the way. In 19 career WHL post-season contests, he added another five points (1G-4A). While the point totals may be modest, any good hockey person will tell you numbers and statistics rarely tell a complete story.

King’s numbers off the ice – a 4.0 GPA and a score of 1,490 on the SATs – provide much greater evidence in support of the impact he had, not only within the Silvertips organization, but on the WHL as a whole. His work with teammates is an intangible contribution that isn’t quantified by any fancy advanced stats, but will be carried forward for years to come.

“Brian was a bit of an unknown two years ago when he came to our program,” said Mitch Love, Everett Silvertips assistant coach. “Obviously, it’s an age-old battle of American kids and Canadian kids, getting them to commit to the Western Hockey League.

“We knew we were getting a soldier in Brian King, the type of player he was and how important the academic side of the league was to him and his family.”

The life of a major junior hockey player isn’t always a glamourous one. Long hours on the bus, early mornings at practice and grueling games all take a toll – physically and mentally – on every player, including the best of the best. For many, the task of navigating life in hockey can be a monumental challenge all its own. King not only handled his on-ice responsibilities with an admirable and exemplary work ethic, he did the same with everything else in life – school being at the top of the list.

“Having the privilege to work with Brian the last two years has been a pleasure of mine,” said Darren Parsons, education advisor for the Everett Silvertips. “Having played in the WHL back in the late ‘80s and now following the league for many years, I comprehend how difficult it is for players to combine the high school academics with the Western Hockey League rigors of practice, training, travel and games.”

On long road trips, Love recalls often seeing a faint light illuminating the back of the Silvertips bus. He never needed to go see what was up – he knew exactly what that light meant. Long after many of his teammates had gone to sleep or become fixated with a movie as the tires on the bus hummed down the highway, King was engaged in his schoolwork, poring over assignments or readings. If he wasn’t taking care of his own academics, he was working to help others work through their own projects and studies.

“He’s a huge role model for our young student athletes,” Love said. “The one thing that’s real tough for us right now is we’re going to lose Brian. Not only just what he brought on the ice in terms of his warrior mentality, his attention to detail and his ability to play and down the lineup, but just what he did for our young student athletes and making sure they were diligent in getting their schoolwork done.

“We all can’t play hockey forever. There is life after hockey and I think the more you put into the academics the better… I’ve seen so many success stories of guys that have [taken advantage of the WHL Scholarship] and I think what Brian’s done for our young players is make them recognize that this is a very important part of their life, no matter what.”

King’s contributions to the Silvertips were so significant, they prompted the club to recognize the Colorado kid as the team’s Unsung Hero for the 2016-17 season.

With that honour, along with his name on the WHL’s Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Trophy as WHL Scholastic Player of the Year, King has opted to fire up the engine on a brand-new adventure.

This fall, he begins studies at the University of Alabama, pursuing a double major in Mechanical Engineering and German. But that isn’t all. His studies will take him to Germany, where he will learn from some of the best and brightest engineers in the world at Esslingen University of Applied Sciences while working an internship with Mercedes Benz.

“What Brian King has accomplished is amazing,” Parsons said. “To accomplish the academic achievements that he has is truly inspiring to me, current players on the Silvertips and future players. His future is extremely bright and I’m excited to follow his career and accomplishments.”

King has already begun feverous preparations. He is essentially two semesters into learning German. Next summer, he is scheduled to complete a full five-week German immersion program in which students work solely in German.

Though he’s excited to face down a new challenge, there’s no question the fact King is going to miss life in the WHL, miss life as an Everett Silvertip, and miss playing the game of hockey.

“It’s been two very memorable years of my life, two of the best years I’ve ever had,” King said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys, group of coaches and a great organization. Everyone is so supportive here – it’s one of the biggest things that comes to mind when I think back on the past few years. No matter what we did, we always had people backing us up, cheering us along, helping us out.

“I’ve learned a lot of life lessons that I will carry over into my academic career as well. It’s not like I’m leaving hockey and that’s it – I’ve learned so much these past two years. I can take that anywhere with me in life and they’re important lessons that I’ll keep with me.

“It was a great experience and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

From a little town of Golden, Colo., to life in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, King has covered an incredible stretch of highway to this point in his life. Now, he holds the road map for an adventure that most people only dream of.

And the potential is limitless.

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