On the wall of Alex Killorn's bedroom in his childhood home in Montreal, there's plenty of memorabilia.
There are the pucks commemorating his first NHL goal and assist, and one of his sticks.
But to his mother, Cindy, a former teacher, the most prized item is a framed degree from Harvard that says Alex Joseph Killorn graduated in 2012 with a bachelor of arts degree in government/political science.
"I think she's still happier that I'm a Harvard graduate than I'm playing in the NHL, to be honest," Killorn said, smiling.
Killorn, 25, will likely add many more mementos to his wall after these playoffs, where he has emerged as one of the Lightning's rising stars, ranking third on the team in goals (six) and points (14). He's a big reason Tampa Bay has a 2-1 series lead over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final heading into tonight's Game 4.
On a top line that features captain Steven Stamkos, Killorn is the straw that stirs the drink. Killorn, a 6-foot-2, 193-pound left wing, was a "giant among men," coach Jon Cooper said, in Wednesday's 6-5 overtime victory in Game 3. He fired off nine shots and scored a highlight-reel goal on a nifty toe drag. Cooper calls Killorn a gazelle, a player who blends size and speed, and is trusted in all situations.
"He's a special player," center Tyler Johnson said, "that consistent rock."
"He does everything right," Stamkos said.
"He makes everybody around him better," Cooper said.
But Cindy, who taught sociology part time at LaSalle College in Montreal, is grateful Killorn has a "safety net." He is one of just three active NHL players (and 27 in league history) who attended Harvard (another is Rangers center Dominic Moore). As proud as she is, Cindy said she "really, really didn't know" if Killorn would make it in the NHL.
"If you're (Sidney) Crosby's parents, then I think it's pretty straightforward he's going to play hockey," Cindy said. "(The same) if you're Stamkos' mom, but for the other 99.99 percent of hockey players that play college hockey, I don't know if you know."
Cindy once told Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman her son was one injury away form "driving the Zamboni." Yzerman, a Hall of Fame player, politely replied, "Come on, I think that's a bit of an exaggeration."
Cindy, who has a master's degree in education, and her husband, Matt, made school a priority. The oldest of their three kids, Katie, 26, is in medical school at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Rachel, 23, is at an accounting firm in Montreal.
After Alex attended Deerfield Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts, he picked Harvard over Boston College, Boston University and Yale. Cindy will never forget the day she broke the news to Katie. Mom made sure Katie sat down.
"I said, 'Alex is going to Harvard,' " Cindy said. "She said, 'What did you just say?' I said, 'Your brother is going to Harvard.' She said, 'My stupid little brother is going to Harvard? You're kidding me, Mom. Oh my God.' So that's sort of been a running joke."
Killorn, who started as an economics major, learned to dispel some of the school's stereotypes.
"Obviously you see the movies, Legally Blonde and that kind of stuff. I wouldn't say it's anything like that," Killorn said. "You see certain aspects of that . … Not many Reese Witherspoons (the star of Legally Blonde) but a lot of smart people, a lot of well-rounded people."
Killorn played four seasons for the Crimson — he was a 2011-12 nominee for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's top player — while trying to balance sports and the books.
"You kind of get used to it," he said. "You're going to practice, then you have to go home and write a 12-page paper, right? I'm really happy I don't have to do that anymore. I can concentrate on hockey."
But Killorn, drafted in the third round in 2007, said he needed four years of college hockey to develop and was happy Yzerman and the Lightning didn't pressure him. Killorn went pro in the spring of 2012, joining AHL Norfolk, then a Lightning affiliate, for Game 18 of its record 28-game winning streak en route to the Calder Cup title.
Killorn was grateful Cooper, then Norfolk's coach, allowed him to attend his Harvard graduation, which occurred between the playoffs' third round and the Calder Cup final. In a black cap and gown, Killorn walked with his classmates through Harvard Yard. Cindy said she was teary-eyed watching from the library steps, her son — now living his NHL dream — having taught her something.
"He really has."