EDMONTON, Alberta - The man entrusted to fill the skates of Nathan MacKinnon has always been told he'd never amount to much at the next level of hockey. Sure, kid, you were OK at that piddly little stage of your hockey career, but "wait 'til you have to play against the really big boys", he was always told.
They've run out of levels by which to prescribe doom for Alexander Kerfoot. Thursday night at Rogers Place, Kerfoot took the ice as the Colorado Avalanche's first-line center, the man tabbed by coach Jared Bednar to replace the league's second-leading scorer as he convalesces two to four weeks with a left shoulder injury.
How did a kid who was always "Five-foot-nuthin'" emerge on hockey's biggest stage, just a few months after graduating from Harvard University with a degree in economics? Here's an even more interesting question perhaps: How did a kid who grew up in financial luxury - whose father made a fortune in the computer software industry and who built a regulation-length hockey rink in the backyard of a $16 million family mountain getaway - maintain the proper hunger to get to this level? How did he not become spoiled and lazy?
It probably goes back to the size thing. Despite every financial advantage a boy could want growing up, there was one thing the Kerfoot family money couldn't buy: size. Kerfoot has always been one of the smaller guys out there, at whatever level he's played at, and always had to prove to the skeptics he could make it. That's what drove him.
"If I could wish for one or two things, yeah, I'd wish for a little more height. It would make things a little easier," Kerfoot told BSN Denver. "But you work with the cards you're dealt."
Kerfoot is listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, and that seems about right. There doesn't appear to be any of the media-guide boosting of a player's real size that teams sometimes give one of their smaller guys. But that's still pretty small for an NHL forward. He hasn't played small, though. Entering Thursday, he had 12 goals and 32 points in 46 games. If the Avs had been told they'd get 32 points total from Kerfoot's rookie season, they might have been pretty happy. As it stands, he looks like a good beat to get at least 50 and, with more ice time as a top center, hopefully even more.
"I'm excited for the challenge," Kerfoot said. "Nobody can replace a guy like MacKinnon. We all have to do a little more."
As a 5-7, 130-pound kid playing in the British Columbia Hockey League, for the Coquitlam Express, Kerfoot was told he'd probably never advance beyond that stage. But he'd already been told he wouldn't do much beyond Major Midget hockey, then went out and scored 36 goals and 72 assists in 38 games in that league.
He impressed enough at Coquitlam that he drew interest from some U.S. college scouts, including Harvard and Boston College. A shoulder injury sidelined him for a full year between his final high school year in West Vancouver and his first year of college, but when he wound up signing with Harvard, he immediately showed he could play at that level too.
His first three years with the Crimson, Kerfoot was the setup man for linemate Jimmy Vesey, who now plays with the New York Rangers. Along the way, Kerfoot started to really believe he could take things to the NHL level. But just in case that didn't work out, he worked diligently on that degree from Harvard.
"Even if it all worked out with a career in the NHL, I always wanted something to fall back on," Kerfoot said. "It was a great experience, playing and going to school at Harvard. It was intimidating to be there at first. Some of those first study groups I was in, I remember thinking that they were talking in a different language or something, they were so smart. But I think I adjusted."
Exactly how Kerfoot maintained a try-harder attitude, despite much more in financial advantage than most kids, remains a bit of a mystery because his family is very private. Like, very private. His father, Greg, has never granted an official interview in his very public career, as a major principal in the founding of the computer company, Seagate. There is no Wikipedia page listed for Greg Kerfoot, despite the fact he's the owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer. There is no thubmnail bio page of him on the Whitecaps' website.
"Yeah, he's pretty private," Kerfoot said of his dad. "That's just the way he is."
And that's about all Kerfoot will say about that too. When the Avs played the Canucks for the first time, on Tuesday, the Kerfoot family all convened at a restaurant and by all accounts it's a very close, loving family. They just like their privacy, that's all.
Kerfoot himself is very outgoing with the press, though, on all other topics. He has been well accepted by teammates, who appreciate his humble nature despite such a privileged upbringing. He's no snob, in other words.
"Excellent kid, good teammate, been a real good player for us," Landeskog said of Kerfoot. "I think when you first see him, you thought his size might be an issue, but it's not at all. He's slippery, but he's not afraid of contact either. He's real creative with the puck and he's really helped us."
In hockey, you know a teammate has been accepted by a group when they start playing practical jokes on you. After the Avs' practice Wednesday at Rogers Place, the team had boxed lunches catered in. At Kerfoot's stall were a couple, listed as salmon salad. Perfect for a B.C. kid, in other words.
But written in little magic marker it said, "Contains peanuts!!!"
Kerfoot has a severe peanut allergy. But he took it in good humor.
You got the sense that Kerfoot was already planning a return ruse on someone. It might be a pretty elaborate one, too. He is a Harvard man, after all.