Through the smears on fogged glass, it is possible to just make out the Michigan hockey team’s star freshman forward crouched low in net.
Fishing out pucks after a grueling midweek practice, Kyle Connor is the last player to leave the ice. Connor doesn’t seem to mind; he’s only worried it might make him late to conditioning.
But that’s the 18-year-old’s demeanor in a nutshell — the attention never mattered to him anyway.
December was Connor’s best month of his fledgling collegiate career. The 17th overall pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2015 NHL Draft led the nation in college goals (seven) and points (13). He had two game-winning goals during the stretch, including a third-period tally on Dec. 29 that sent Michigan to the Great Lakes Invitational final.
The accolades came, too, as Connor earned GLI MVP honors and was named the Hockey Commissioners’ Association National Rookie of the Month for December.
But it was a snub, delivered by e-mail no less, that grabbed the headlines. When Team USA announced the roster for the 2015 IIHF World Juniors Tournament in Finland, Connor’s name wasn’t on the list. He hadn’t even been invited to the selection camp.
Connor, who has a career .81 points per game with USA teams and starred in 2014’s U18 World Junior Championship, was shocked.
“Any time you don’t make a team — yeah, sure it hurts,” Connor said. “But you know, they did a good job over there. Congrats to (Michigan sophomore defender) Zach Werenski and the rest of the team.”
Team USA finished as bronze medalists.
Some think the tryout snub may date back to Connor’s USHL days with the Youngstown Phantoms. After a tremendous rookie year, Connor returned to Youngstown despite interest from the National Talent Development Program in Ann Arbor. In his sophomore season, Connor set a record for career points (74) with the Phantoms.
Slights of this sort can be hard for Team USA to forgive.
“There is a loyalty towards players who have gone through the program in the past,” Dan Marr, chief scout for NHL Central Scouting, told The National Post. “It’s a little harder for someone who hasn’t been part of the process to break in.”
So was that chip on his shoulder the catalyst for another breakout performance at the GLI?
“I don’t think so, I just played my game,” Connor said.
Even Michigan coach Red Berenson seems to be incredulous at his star’s unflappability.
“I was worried how he would take the weekend he had against Minnesota and put that on the ice after Christmas, but there was no question when he came back for practice,” Berenson said. “That was good, because I was worried he might start worrying about the World Juniors and everything. He maxed out his weekend.”
Connor always seems to be doing exactly what he is supposed to do. He brings it in practice, wants to be a better defender and always gives the credit to his teammates.
Asked about his favorite goal this season, the left-winger said he doesn’t have one, offering only, “When you score, they don’t ask you how.”
The routine borders on monotony.
But the strategy is paying dividends. Opposing teams can’t ignore the freshman when he is scoring at this clip, and Connor is quickly becoming the most dangerous offensive weapon in Michigan’s deep arsenal.
He has found the most boring possible path to stardom, but that doesn’t seem to bother Connor at all — he never did care about the attention.