TAMPA -- Matt Killorn didn't know if it was possible, if his son Alex could do both. He hoped he could, but he also worried that having him concentrate so much on getting his education would destroy his dream to play in the NHL.
"I remember having the discussions with my wife, because she's a teacher by profession, and she was really advocating strongly the school route, which was obviously the right choice," Matt Killorn said. "But there was always a piece of me thinking, 'Is this really the right path?' There were a lot of people who told us that if you choose Harvard you're kind of saying no to professional hockey, because at that time Harvard wasn't really considered a strong hockey school."
Alex Killorn figured out a way to do both. Successfully. In the most demanding environments.
He graduated Harvard University with a degree in political science and a 3.5 grade-point average in 2012. Now he's a left wing playing top-six minutes on a line with Steven Stamkos for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, which is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 on Monday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
Killorn became the first Harvard graduate in history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Final when he scored in Game 1. It was his eighth goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has 17 points in 22 games after finishing the regular season with 38 points in 71 games.
"I always thought, 'OK, he's got his degree and he's going to be a good hockey player,' but I didn't necessarily think he'd be performing at this level at this point," Matt Killorn said. "I would have said he's a good player and hopefully he is going to do OK, but I never thought he'd be contributing at this level now the way he is."
Killorn got to this level because he was smart, patient but still aggressive when he needed to be, and both mentally and physically strong -- attributes that define him as a player too.
Not many 15-year-old kids from a Montreal suburb such as Beaconsfield, Quebec, who were drafted in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League decide to go play prep school hockey in Massachusetts.
Killorn did after he was selected by Shawinigan with the No. 42 pick in the 2005 QMJHL Draft. He went to Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass. He committed to Harvard right around the same time. He was 5-foot-9, maybe 155 pounds.
"I got drafted pretty high in the Q, but it was Quebec, it's not a huge stage," Killorn said.
Deciding to travel the education path wasn't difficult for Killorn considering his family background. His mom, Cindy, is an educator. His older sister, Katie, is in medical school. His younger sister, Rachel, has a business degree and works in accounting. Matt works in pharmaceuticals for Novartis Canada.
"[Cindy] would say that if she knew he would be Sidney Crosby and it's kind of written that he would be a star than great, go for it, but that's not written for Alex so we needed to make sure he had a backup plan and other options," Matt Killorn said. "I told him that if he was going to go to Harvard, you're not going to go there for one or two years, you're going to get your degree."
Killorn liked the idea of having other options because he has other interests. He is starting to get into the real estate business through investments. He has connected with other Harvard alumni in the Tampa area.
"When I was making that decision [to attend Harvard] I wasn't envisioning myself playing in the Stanley Cup Final with Steven Stamkos on my line," Killorn said. "Those are things that you hope happen, but you can't expect that. Not that I didn't have belief in myself, I thought I was going to play, but regardless if you have a good career or not, you're still going to be done by 35, 36 or 37. After that what do you do? I was pretty interested in doing some other things also."
Killorn was set on carving his path to live his dream first.
He said he grew physically in his two years at Deerfield Academy, but he wasn't sure about his draft status because he told every team he talked to at the NHL Draft Combine that he was going to Harvard for four years.
The Lightning picked him anyway with the No. 77 selection in 2007.
"I remember they told me that they were taking a chance on a guy, swinging for the fences, maybe he'll hit and maybe he won't," Killorn said. "I was pretty sure I would have a longer process than most guys."
Killorn said he grew into a man in his four years at Harvard. Staying for a fourth year proved to be the right decision. He not only got his degree, but he became a better player. He had 46 points in 34 games as a senior, when he was 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds. He helped the Crimson reach the ECAC championship game. He named to the CCM Hockey All-America first team and was an ECAC Hockey Championship All-Tournament selection.
"I felt even after his junior year that Alex could have played in the American [Hockey] League, but he had just started to blossom in his junior year and I thought that extra year, not only would he get bigger and stronger, but he would really be the guy for us and take on a lot of responsibility and pressure," Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "He was outstanding. He became a guy we counted on as much up a goal at the end of the game as we did down a goal. That really allowed him to make the transition because he rounded out his game."
Killorn left school in 2012 to play for current Lightning coach Jon Cooper in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals. They won the Calder Cup. Killorn had 12 points in 17 games.
He had 19 points in 38 games as a rookie in 2012-13. He was on a line with Stamkos and Martin St. Louis last season, when he scored 17 goals and 41 points in 82 games.
"It's pretty special," Matt Killorn said. "Looking back on it now, I wasn't sure it was going to work. It's great to see because he's really passionate about the sport. If you can do something that you truly enjoy and make a good living at it you're lucky that way."