Overlooked but Undeterred


oming into a late November matchup with New Hampshire in the 2017-18 season, Boston College men’s hockey was flying high. The Eagles were winners of five straight games, unbeaten in their last 10 meetings with the Wildcats, and finally looked like they were ready to shake off a disappointing start to the season that included blowout losses to St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, and Denver.

But all that positive momentum seemed to be washing down the drain midway through the second period. BC trailed, 2-1, thanks to a breakaway effort from UNH’s Eric MacAdams. The Eagles had peppered the Wildcat goal to no avail, and were in desperate need of an offensive spark. They got it in the form of Michael Kim, one of the more unlikely scoring threats on the team, whose first career two-goal performance sparked the Eagles’ 3-2 comeback win.

First, the senior defenseman emerged on the power play, finding space on the right side and placing a perfect slap shot past Wildcats netminder Danny Tirone to tie the game at two. Then, a period later, a rebound off a Logan Hutsko shot from the draw popped out to the left dot. Kim, once again in the right place at the right time, slotted home the rebound for the game-winning goal.

Kim has made a habit of being in the perfect spot throughout his career, finding ways to contribute to the Eagles in whatever way he can. The captain was third on the team in assists last season, a figure which is surprising considering just two of the top 15 assist-men in the NCAA last season were defensemen, and none of the top eight were. Some people might call it luck, or a statistical anomaly, but the reality is just the opposite. The senior defender has always been driven by a desire to do his best at everything he tries, and he’s never let anything, from his unorthodox path to the Eagles’ hockey team to the academic demands of student life here at BC, get in his way.

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im’s path to the Eagles was unusual from the beginning. Growing up in the hockey hotbed of Toronto, he didn’t have a stereotypical “hockey dad” to spark his passion in the sport. His dad never played hockey growing up, instead getting Kim started playing piano.

It was his mother, Ruth Hall, who first pushed him out onto the ice. His mom—who had figure-skated and played other sports growing up—got him skating when he was 3 years old.

But it wasn’t just hockey that interested him. Growing up, Kim dabbled in soccer, rugby, and, when he eventually moved to Phillips Andover boarding school in Massachusetts after his sophomore year of high school in Toronto, football for a year. For Kim, though, hockey remained his passion, and his move to Andover reflected that.

For many young hockey players in Canada with professional aspirations, the end of sophomore year in high school marks a big step for them. That’s when they become eligible for major junior hockey leagues such as the Western Hockey League or the Ontario Hockey League, which is just one step below the NHL. And many talented high schoolers do indeed end up declaring for the various major junior hockey teams, but doing so automatically forfeits their NCAA eligibilities, as those leagues are considered professional by NCAA standards.

Rushing into professional hockey after sophomore year wasn’t the best fit for Kim. He knew that he wanted to play college hockey, and that he wasn’t as physically developed as most of the players he would face in professional hockey. So it was off to Andover, one of the best boarding schools in the United States, where he honed his game for three years, shared a room with Michael Lata, one of his childhood friends, and continued to develop his interest in math.

“He’s always been good with numbers, and always been inclined towards math,” Lata said, also noting that Kim has been academically driven for as long as he’s known him.

Kim’s continued to maintain his interest in the subject, and is currently declared as a mathematics minor.

Following graduation, the two of them remained together, matriculating to the Boston Jr. Bruins of the United States Premier Hockey League. The USPHL is a step many young hockey players in the States take as a way of preparing for their next steps in hockey, whether it be college or a professional opportunity. It was also Kim’s first experience focusing on hockey full-time. But even while his days were dedicated to improving his game, he still kept his mind ready for his next step to college, taking his time, living in the moment, and working hard.

In the mornings before practices, he would take online classes, something that was entirely self-motivated.

“I knew that if I was going to be sitting around not doing something to keep my brain active, it was going to be tough to come back into school,” Kim said.

In the time that wasn’t dedicated to studying or skating, Kim played the piano in his room, something that he had continued throughout his childhood even after he started to play hockey, and had excelled at all the way up until his senior recital at Andover.

After a year with the Bruins, Lata left to attend Brown, and Kim was faced with a choice. He still had no Division I offers but plenty of interest from Division III schools. He knew he wanted to play D-I hockey, so he decided to stay another year with the Bruins and continue to work on his skills. Just months later, his hard work paid off.

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n late October of 2015, he was consistently playing his best hockey, and BC took notice, coming to watch a game and then asking him to visit the next day. Kim did, and committed the day after. Unlike some recruits, Kim was never involved in the hoopla of being courted by many schools at once. BC was the only D-I school to ever reach out, and he knew once he talked to them that the Eagles would be a great fit, hockey-wise and academically.

He’s been rewarding head coach Jerry York’s faith in him ever since. When he joined the Eagles, he suited up for BC after practicing just twice, going, by his account, from playing “one of the worst teams in the league,” —the league being the USPHL—to Providence, the defending national champion. BC lost that game to the Friars 2-1, but it was an important learning experience for Kim.

“It taught me how important the mental part of hockey is, and being confident in your ability, going out there and keeping things simple,” he said.

The rest of that year, he learned how to improve that ability, spending time under the mentorship of Steven Santini and Ian McCochen, two defenders who now ply their trade in the NHL, and going toe-to-toe with some of the best forwards in the country. Among them: Stanley Cup winner Alex Tuch, Colin White—who is now playing for the Ottawa Senators—and Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils.

All that time with excellent players certainly helped. The next season, Kim was one of six players on the team to skate in every game, and was second on the team in plus-minus rating at +18. And in 2017, he took another step, playing every game and once again finishing second on the team in plus-minus, leading the defensemen in scoring with 20 points, becoming a Third-Team Hockey East All-Star, and serving as a team captain for an Eagles squad that rostered zero seniors.

Kim’s improvement has been meticulous and consistent, and part of that has been due to his durability. The senior has played in 77 consecutive games for BC, a sign of the dedication he puts into maintaining his body, which is something that can be difficult with the tribulations of a college sleep schedule.

He’s been consistent outside the rink, too. A finance major enrolled in the Carroll School of Management, Kim has always been a dedicated student, and hasn’t let his time playing hockey affect his ability to excel in the classroom. In each of the past two years, he’s been recognized as an American Hockey Coaches Association All-American Scholar, an honor given to student-athletes who played in at least 40 percent of their team’s games, all while maintaining at least a 3.6 GPA—a credit to his hard work.

But through all the success on and off the ice, he’s kept his head down and stayed grounded. He spent the summer working on getting faster and stronger and improving his shot, hoping to find new ways to contribute all over the ice, all while working at State Street, one of the largest financial services companies in the United States.

“To understand him, you have to realize that he’s a kid who wants to do his best at everything he does and he just keeps working hard,” Lata said. “He’s improved every year and that’s really a testament to the habits he has both on the ice and off the ice.”

This season, the two-time team captain will be manning the backline for an Eagles team that boasts a bevy of returners, as well as the fourth-best recruiting class in the country headlined by Oliver Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Expectations for the team are high, and BC certainly has the talent to live up to them. But it’ll be the less-hyped players like Kim who have just as big an impact on the team’s success.

Four years ago, Kim joined BC as a lightly-recruited prospect, the most unfamiliar name on a defensive unit loaded with NHL talent. Now, he’s used his brilliant work ethic to quietly become one of the most valuable players on the team, serving as a steadying force on the defensive unit, while also popping up with timely contributions on the offensive end. If he plays well, the Eagles always have a chance to win, and that, not individual praise for his dedication, is what he’s mainly concerned about for his last season with the team.

“If I’m playing my best and doing the right things for myself that’s just going to help the team,” Kim said, “and everything that comes with the team having success is going to come back on all of us individually.”

After all this time, he still knows that hard work will get him exactly where he wants to be.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

Photo by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor