EVERETT — Darren Parsons looked at Brian King in disbelief.
Parsons, now in his sixth year as the academic coordinator for the Everett Silvertips and himself a three-year veteran of the Western Hockey League, had heard a lot of things come out the mouths of players.
But never this.
King, then a rookie forward from New Hampshire by way of Colorado, told Parsons he wanted to be the valedictorian of Everett High School.
“It’s kind of like in hockey saying, ‘I want to be the assistant principal’ or ‘I want to be president,’” Parsons said. “I was like, ‘Seriously, you want to be valedictorian? Do you know how difficult that can be? And play hockey full-time? And have the commitments that you have?’
“He’s totally motivated and driven, which is unbelievable.”
King, now in the midst of his second season with the Silvertips, doesn’t skimp on his classes. This fall his load included AP calculus, AP English and physics.
“They’re tough classes to handle, obviously with the hockey, getting the homework done and still being able to study and keep up,” King said. “But the teachers have done a great job of helping out. They’ll email and give me the work prior to help me learn the material before I go away on trips.”
King is still on track to be the valedictorian when Everett High holds commencement exercises in June, though that still depends on his grades in his final two semesters.
But if the Tips’ second-year forward maintains his perfect grade-point average, he will become the first valedictorian in the history of the Western Hockey League.
Chasing big brother
King’s academic prowess is not without family precedent. His older brother, Chris, now a sophomore on the pre-med track at the University of Montana in Missoula, was his high school’s valedictorian.
“There’s a little competition between us,” Brian said with a wry smile. “Academically I’ve always been trying to do as well as him, but he’s really excelled in that area.”
King’s parents, Craig and Linda, emphasize education. Craig is a former Navy pilot who now flies freight commercially, while Linda worked as a microbiologist.
While the scholastic success was somewhat innate, the fact that King gravitated toward hockey was more due to location than anything else.
Linda is from New England, but Craig grew up in the south and played football for a year at the University of Georgia before focusing on his education and eventual military career. By the time Brian was born in 1999, the family was living in New Hampshire with a river behind their house that would freeze over in the winter.
It was on the river and at the community rink in Durham, N.H., that King learned to skate and eventually found the sport of hockey. Much like his Canadian teammates, King played hockey because “it’s just what you did.”
“The funniest thing was watching my wife and I try to put hockey equipment on Brian when he was 5,” Craig said. “We didn’t know even know where the pieces went. We had to ask other parents. I didn’t know anything about hockey. Everything I know about hockey I’ve learned from doing this.”
King was 11 when Craig took a job with the Department of Defense as a flight instructor and the family moved to Golden, Colorado. King played for the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders before the Everett Silvertips of a mysterious league called the “Dub” took him in the fourth round of the the 2014 bantam draft.
“It was some sort of urban legend where the great players went,” Craig said. “We didn’t know a thing about it other than it was the WHL and heard people talk about the ‘Dub.’ That was the extent of our knowledge of the thing.”
Balancing work and play
Elite hockey players often experience a tension between pursuing both their academic and athletic careers. Players in the WHL come from all over Western Canada and the Western United States, and face the prospect of playing what amounts to a professional-style hockey schedule while just juniors and seniors in high school.
The WHL has taken steps to emphasize academics, including implementing a scholarship program that pays for a year of post-secondary schooling for each year a player competes in the league.
But that wasn’t always the case.
“When I played there was nobody who looked over your shoulder, nobody you could seek help (from) or anything,” said Parsons, who works closely on the academic side with Tips assistant Brennan Sonne, another graduate of the league and its scholarship program.
“School was a secondary thing. It was all hockey,” Parsons added. “Things have changed now. I have to report to the league, I have to get them transcripts, if a kid doesn’t graduate on time we have to make sure we put them on a plan.”
Assured of the academic opportunities in Everett and the WHL, King signed with the Silvertips in April of 2015. Unlike his Canadian teammates who earn their diplomas through the high schools in their hometowns, King was able to transfer all his credits to Everett High and will graduate as a Seagull.
The Silvertips schedule keeps King very busy during most of the school year, but he was able to get to know his EHS classmates better, particularly when the Tips were eliminated from the playoffs in April and all his teammates went home.
“It was difficult coming in at first as the new kid with the Silvertips schedule,” King said. “(Now) it does feel like (I’m) a normal student.”
Just a normal student who happens to be at the top of his class.
Billeting with the folks
Nearly every WHL player moves away from home when he makes a roster and lives with a billet family, but Brian brought his family with him.
Craig is back to flying freight after his stint with the Department of Defense, and is based out of Ohio. However, he works in large blocks of time and has blocks of time off, enabling the King family to live virtually anywhere.
With Chris away at college, the family relocated to Snohomish prior to Brian’s rookie year in 2015-16. That includes younger brother Matthew, a freshman at Glacier Peak who is an elite swimmer and competes for Snohomish County-based StingRay Swim Team.
“It kind of fell together perfectly for us and we were able to move up here,” Brian said.
“I would never say it doesn’t help, (because) the other kids are literally on their own,” Craig added. “For Brian I think it helps that he has a younger brother, and his younger brother likes being around him.”
King had four goals and six assists as a rookie last season. He’s already matched that total with a goal and nine assists halfway through this year’s campaign while continuing to stand out both on the ice and in the classroom in ways in which few WHL players have before.
“I think it really comes down to how much the kids want to succeed in that area,” King said. “If you’re willing to put in the work and willing to study and work hard on the ice you can succeed in both areas, because it’s really what you want to do. If you put in the effort you’ll be able to get out of it what you want.”
For King that’s not only a potential WHL championship in May, but also a valedictory address in June.
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