It’s one thing to be a hockey coach and tell a young under-the-radar player on what he or she needs to do to grab the attention of NCAA and major junior hockey programs, it’s another thing bestowing that advice when the player in question is your kid.
Just ask Cyril Bollers.
After his 16-year-old son, Kyle Bollers, was bypassed by Canadian major teams, the elder Bollers, who’s the director of player development for the Skillz Black Aces and has coached for Canadian hockey teams at the youth and junior levels, convened a family meeting to go over the options Kyle had to chase professional hockey-playing dream.
With skating for an Ontario Hockey League major junior team close to his suburban Toronto home out, Kyle’s family concluded the he’d have to leave home and play in a lower but nonetheless important league to catch the eyes of collegiate and major junior scouts.
The youngest and only foreign-born player on the team, Kyle finished fourth on the Hounds in scoring with 29 goals and 27 assists in 46 regular season games.
He helped propel the Hounds to second place in the USPHL’s Eastern Conference Division with a 37-9 record with two overtime losses. The Hounds are currently battling the Detroit Fighting Irish in the second round of the playoffs.
“Honestly, I never expected to do this well. This was a good step – a great decision that me and my family chose to send me down here,” Kyle told me recently. “Missing my mom, my dad, and my brothers and sisters, that’s been the hardest part. There are some days that I wish I could be home. But at the same time, I just think to myself ‘Why am I here, what’s, my goal, and what I do need to do to achieve that goal?’ And what I need to do is to be here.”
While Kyle may have been occasionally homesick, his parents confessed to being occasionally heart-sick about his absence. Still, father Cyril said move to Traverse City gives Kyle “an opportunity to be seen in the U.S., it gives him an opportunity to pursue his dream of playing college or major junior hockey, it gives him a brand new start, it gives him sense of independence being away from home as a 16-year-old.”
“It also gives him a sense of accomplishment of achieving and continuing to progress at a high level,” the elder Bollers said. “So for us, it’s a bitter sorrow because he is away from home. But he’s being productive in pursuing his hockey endeavors.”
The USPHL was founded in 2012 and it consists of 110 teams from 55 hockey organizations across 19 states. The teams skate in the Premier, Elite, Midwest, USP3, Under-18, Under-16 and Under-16 Futures divisions.
More than 350 USPHL players have gone on to play college or professional hockey. Center Jack Eichel went from the USPHL’s Boston Junior Bruins to a standout career at Boston University to being the Buffalo Sabres’ 2015 first-round draft pick and a top contender this season for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best rookie.
Center Charlie Coyle advanced from Massachusetts’ South Shore Kings to BU to being the San Jose Sharks’ 2010 first-round draft pick. Coyle is the Minnesota Wild’s leading scorer so far this season.
Kyle is hoping the USPHL will put him on the same glide path. Lester Griffin, the Hounds’majority owner and general manager, thinks it’s only a matter of time .
“He’s got great hands, sees the ice real well. We’re working with him to help improve his puck movement, passing,” Griffin told me recently. “He’s got a lot of potential and next year, he should be playing up somewhere.”
This summer, Kyle will likely spend some quality time on-ice with his dad, who’s a coach for the Jamaica Ice Hockey Federation, an organization that’s trying to develop a team that would eventually represent the Caribbean island nation in the Winter Olympics.
Kyle, whose family is of West Indian heritage, has practiced and played in an exhibition game for Team Jamaica. He said he’s looking forward to donning the team’s snazzy yellow, black, and green jersey and skate in more exhibition matches this summer.