Growing up in Montreal together, Alex Killorn and Louis Leblanc shared a dream.
Both played hockey in a city enamored with the sport, grew up rooting for the hometown Canadiens, and had the ultimate goal of one day donning NHL jerseys of their own.
The pair knew each other through hockey circles for much of their childhoods. Both played for the Lac St-Louis Lions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before Leblanc took his game to Omaha, Neb. to play in the USHL, where he was an All-Star.
After winning the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge as a member of Team Quebec in 2006—Leblanc would do the same two years later—Killorn was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round (77th overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft.
He decided to attend Harvard before joining the Lightning organization, and finished third on the team in scoring as a freshman during the 2008-09 season.
In June 2009, Leblanc was taken in the first round (18th overall) of the NHL Draft—which was held in Montreal—by the hometown Canadiens. That meant that one day, the center would have the chance to play for the team that he and Killorn had grown up cheering for.
But until then, Leblanc decided to join his fellow Quebecer at Harvard, also believing college hockey would provide him with valuable experience before turning pro.
It was in Cambridge that the friendship between the two Canadian hockey stars would grow stronger.
“I’ve known Louis probably my whole life,” Killorn says. “[But] once we got to Harvard, played on the line together, and got to know each other better, we became even better friends.”
During the 2009-10 season, both displayed the skills that had made them NHL draft picks. Leblanc led the team in points (23), goals (11), and finished second in assists (12) while winning Ivy Rookie of the Year; Killorn finished just three points, two goals, and one assist behind.
At the end of the season, Leblanc was ready to begin his professional career, leaving Killorn and his other teammates and forfeiting his remaining three years of NCAA eligibility to sign a three-year contract with the Canadiens.
The center joined the Montreal Junior Hockey Club for the 2010-11 season, and, upon turning 20 at the year’s conclusion, turned pro, joining the American Hockey League.
With Leblanc gone, Killorn emerged as Harvard’s star, leading the Crimson with 15 goals and finishing second on the team with 29 points as a junior. While he did so, he kept an eye of the progress of his friend, who registered three points and the game-winning overtime goal in his first professional contest with the Hamilton Bulldogs, a 3-2 win over the Rochester Americans and another former teammate, Alex Biega ’10, on Oct. 27.
This year, Killorn, now an assistant captain, has continued to shine at the Bright Hockey Center, leading the squad with six goals through 10 contests.
Meanwhile, Leblanc has taken his game to a whole new level, achieving the pair’s childhood aspiration of reaching the NHL.
On Nov. 28, the Canadiens called up the center from Hamilton, and he played in his first game two days later against the Anaheim Ducks.
Then, on Thursday night, Leblanc scored his first NHL goal in front of the 20,000-plus hometown fans at the Bell Centre, picking up a deflection and beating Philadelphia Flyers’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky from 10-feet out.
“It was unbelievable,” Leblanc says. “Getting a big cheer from the crowd, it was a very special moment for me.”
Leblanc’s parents could not be there to see the moment in person, as his father had to work in Boston.
But he did have one special fan in attendance—his former linesman, Killorn.
“He called me two days before the game and said he was coming,” Leblanc said. “I was excited to see him, and I was happy he was able to be there. ... I’ll remember that forever.”
The rookie received a standing ovation from the hometown fans, including his former teammate, who got to see his friend score a goal for the team they had both grown up rooting for.
“Since he got drafted, he’s gotten a lot of attention,” Killorn says. “I know, being a Montreal native, a lot of people support him, and to actually see him play in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens is huge. I guess you could call him a hometown hero.”
Killorn says it was a moment that made a lot of their fellow Quebecers proud.
“After the goal was announced, they couldn’t even drop the puck because the crowd was so loud,” the forward recalls.
For Leblanc, scoring an NHL goal was a dream come true. But he also knows he has a lot to work on; the center has only averaged 9:25 in ice time in his nine games with Montreal.
Coach Jacques Martin had hinted he wanted to send the rookie back down to Hamilton to gain more experience when some injured veterans returned to Montreal, but Martin was fired Saturday, leaving Leblanc’s fate unknown.
For now, then, the rookie is just enjoying his time in the NHL and taking in everything he can.
“It’s been great,” Leblanc says. “I’m just learning a lot from the more experienced guys. ... The game is so much faster and so much quicker than the other leagues I’ve played in, [so] just being responsible and doing things right is very important.”
For Killorn, witnessing his friend achieve his dream has strengthened his own desire to one day suit up for the Lightning.
“It’s definitely exciting for me,” Killorn says. “It just lets you know how close, how realistic [playing in the NHL] can be. Talking to him about how the process has gone for him ... shows if you just keep working hard, it’s a legitimate possibility.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman be reached at email@example.com.