Brian King has seen his share of pressure-packed situations at Xfinity Arena.
The Everett Silvertips winger has scored goals in front of thousands of screaming fans at his home venue. He was right in the thick of Everett’s U.S. Division title-clinching 5-2 victory over the Victoria Royals on March 18, getting involved in a line brawl at the end of the second period.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” King said about giving the welcoming speech at Everett High’s graduation ceremonies.
“Giving the graduation speech and playing hockey games are different experiences,” King added. “Playing games there’s a lot more fans, but you can kind of wash them out. During the speech I was able to look around the arena and take it all in, so I was able to see how many people were in the stands.”
Given King’s accomplishments, a little nerves weren’t going to be much of an impediment.
I’ve had the good fortune to witness many incredible things during my years covering the Tips, most significantly the team’s miracle run to the WHL finals as an expansion club in 2004. King’s accomplishment may be the most amazing.
It’s an incredible time commitment being a WHL player. On practice days it requires about five hours devoted to hockey. On game days it’s more. There are times when the members of the team who are still in high school arrive back in town at 4 a.m. from a road game the previous night, then have to get up and be at school four hours later.
Just surviving it all is an accomplishment. Doing that while being the class’ top graduate? It doesn’t seem possible. According to research done by Everett broadcaster Mike Benton, only one WHL player had ever been valedictorian of his high school class, that being Portland’s Braydon Coburn in the early 2000s.
King made it two.
Yet when King gave his graduation speech, there was no waxing eloquent about balancing his school life with the Silvertips. Indeed, hockey didn’t even receive a mention.
“Be proud and enjoy this moment in front of all these special people, and remember the journey it took to get to this point,” King told the graduation crowd. “Nobody here can say it was easy. We all had difficult times, but we all found a way, and we’re here.”
King found his way. It involved doing classwork during the team’s long bus rides during road trips. It included the support and understanding of his teammates, who sat beside him doing classwork and, most importantly, didn’t apply any peer pressure to neglect his studies. And it required a mastery of time management we all could probably learn from.
The result was a 4.0 grade-point average and top honors at his school. From an individual who in a span of 225 days played in 77 games between the preseason, regular season and playoffs, with those games taking place in 16 different cities ranging as far east as Brandon, Manitoba, and as far north as Prince George, B.C.
And it’s amazing how well King is able to compartmentalize his life. One would think someone so academically accomplished would have at least thought about what he would be doing for college in the fall if he wasn’t playing for the Silvertips. Not King. For all his scholastic achievement, his mind is still devoted to his hockey career.
“I want to see how far I can go in hockey,” was King’s response when asked the hypothetical question about college. “But if it doesn’t work out it’s great that the Silvertips are so supportive of education.”
King’s time as a student while with the Tips is far from over. He intends to follow the path of former teammate Tristen Pfeifer, who took online college courses during his time in Everett. And though King wouldn’t speculate on theoretical college choices, he did at least admit to having an interest in engineering. If playing hockey doesn’t work out in the long term for King, maybe he’ll be the one who can design a hockey helmet that lessens the chances of concussions. King has those paths and more open to him.
As King wound up his graduation speech, he reflected on his time at Everett High.
“The most important part of high school is the great experiences we take away from it,” he said. “Don’t ever lose those memories.
“But don’t stop making new ones,” King continued. “We’re here to celebrate the past four years of our lives and all our bright futures where anything can happen.”
After concluding his remarks King exited stage right and took a seat in the front row of graduates, the nerve-wracking portion of his day complete.
And as he sat there it seemed his words were particularly applicable to himself. For someone who has successfully balanced academics and athletics the way King has, anything truly is possible.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.