By Josh Howald
Give it a year or two, and Ryker Killins will be a Bulldog.
Ryker Killins on the Stratford blue line earlier this season.
Sorry local Junior C fans - he'll be a Ferris State University Bulldog, not the Kincardine kind.
Last week Killins committed to a hockey scholarship at Ferris State University beginning in 2015.
The FSU Bulldogs are a NCAA hockey power located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Bulldogs are currently the sixth ranked team in the United States and held first place overall in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) heading into weekend action.
"You could say it is a goal achieved," said the smooth skating defenceman, "but I still need to get there. There is a lot of work to do."
He has certainly worked hard to where he is today - in Stratford, with more goals than any other blue liner in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. Heading into the weekend, his 30 points in 25 games had him second in points among all GOJHL defenders. Just two years ago, he was working his tail off to get noticed by Ontario Hockey League scouts as a minor midget with the Huron-Perth Lakers and a key member of the Kincardine District Secondary School's OFSAA championship team. He was a late pick of the WIndsor Spitfires, going early in the 12th round.
After a summer of training, he signed with the Cullitons prior to his first OHL training camp with the Spits. He turned in an impressive rookie season with 22 points in 48 games, and was named Stratford's top rookie. Then, he promptly went back to work under the eye of Kincardine Bulldogs head coach Jeff Alcombrack. Alcombrack trained a group of young players last summer, which included Killins and Garrett McFadden, a former KDSS teammate of Killins and a first round pick of the Guelph Storm.
"Having guys like (McFadden) and Ben (Scheel, of the OPJHL Burlington Cougars) there to push each other was great," said Killins. "It pushed us all to become better players, and it's good to have guys like that around you. I have to give (Alcombrack) a lot of credit for getting me quicker and stronger. I feel really good this year."
He passed on exhibition action with Windsor at this year's training camp in order to maintain his NCAA eligibility. Clearly, he made the right decision. He has become one of the most dangerous defencemen in the GOJHL, highlighted by a seven-point performance earlier this season in a beating of the Listowel Cyclones. Several NCAA programs had been courting Killins, but a full scholarship offer from the Bulldogs wasn't something he had to think about.
"I visited in the summer. The facilities are all top of the line. The coaches are committed to developing players and want to win," said Killins. "The school looks brand new, and it just looks like a great place to be."
Killins had no trouble waiting for 2015 for the scholarship to kick in. That's what FSU offered, in order to give him an extra year of high school to prepare scholastically, and mature his on-ice game as well. He plans to remain in Stratford and do that with the Cullitons.
"I just want to get better and develop as a hockey player," said the 1996-born Killins. "I need to be ready to move into college hockey as a player, and be ready as a person."
With his future mapped out a little more clearly, he can turn his complete focus on the Cullitons, who are now fifth overall in the GOJHL's Midwestern Conference after squeaking past Listowel 2-1 Friday night at the LIstowel Memorial.
"We're playing good hockey right now," he said. "We are losing tight games - when playoffs roll around, we will be a good hockey team."