Leagues of Their Own: AJ Greer
As the New Year approaches and the feeling-out period of high school hockey is replaced by more meaningful, marquee match-ups, we touched base with our fourth Leagues of Their Own featured prospect this season, Kimball Union Academy co-captain AJ Greer. A former Penn State recruit, the 6’3, 205 lb forward is not only one of College Hockey’s top prospects, but also finds himself shaping up to be a serious NHL prospect (2015) with the seemingly sky-high ceiling that comes with his athleticism, frame and skillset around the puck.
Highlighted by The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy as one-third of prep school hockey’s Most Dangerous Line, the late-1996 birthyear forward posted 35 points (16 goals) in 30 games for a loaded Kimball Union group last season and leads the team in the early going this season. Prior to that, the Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL) 2013 draft selection skated in the Quebec Midget AAA circuit for Collège Esther-Blondin in 2011-12. We’re fortunate to have him join the series and will check in with him later in the season for another installment as his team works to make a meaningful run.
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Over The Boards: How’d you get into hockey?
AJ Greer: I started at 3 years old, I was always around the rink, somewhere, cause my dad was the GM for the Cornwall Colts, it’s in the CCHL. He sent a lot of guys the college route. He started in 1996, the year I was born and stopped in 2003, so all my young years we used to drive up from Joliette to Cornwall. They signed me up for hockey, I actually did figure skating as well.
OTB: No kidding? That must be paying off pretty well now, were you good at figure skating?
AG: I was in a few competitions and got some medals, I could have continued in that but figure skating, for me, it wasn’t really my passion. It was just really to get the basics of skating. I started figure-skating at 3 and I started hockey at 3 so it always continued. Typical day I’d go to school, then figure skating from 3:30 until 5 and then from 5:30 until 7 practice.
OTB: At the same rink?
AG: At the same rink. I stopped figure skating at twelve, though, just because I couldn’t function with the blades…
OTB: Yeah. Plus, hockey gets a little more demanding..
AG: Yeah, intense. I stopped from 8 to 11 and then from 11 to 12 I started back at figure skating, for a year and it didn’t work.
OTB: Were you always living in the same spot through that age?
AG: No, I moved from Joliet to Repentigny when I was 8, so I did more of my younger, more “elite” hockey there, atom double B, peewee double A, and so from there I kept on going. That year I started in peewee double A, they took out the “lates”, so the 96s, with the december birthdate. So I only took one year of Peewees and then I moved up to Bantam AA, played that for two years and went to Midget AAA.
OTB: What teams did you play against in bantams?
AG: You kind of play like each region, now there’s bantam AAA as well. It’s pretty much just little regions together. Every weekend we’d travel, it’s not that far.
OTB: So where’d you go after bantams?
AG: After Bantam AA I wasn’t supposed to go play Midget AAA, at first, because the Midget AAA works with a program where all the teams have to go to one school and then they practice, and they miss class, but all together so there’s no confusion. It was a French school I had to go to and I said no because I’d gone to English school all my life and I wanted to go to an English school. So I applied to St. Paul’s (NH-Prep) and everything was good and at the last minute they told me I wasn’t in.
OTB: Wow. What’d you do then?
AG: I panicked, really, a little bit. I didn’t know what I was gonna do until I decided to play Midget AAA and managed it so I went to an English school and I didn’t miss practices or class. Education’s pretty important for me.
OTB: Is that because of your dad and his experience in hockey or..?
AG: Yeah. My dad retired the day I was born, so he’s been following me my whole life and so sending guys to college was big and my mom always told me the only thing we want is for you to have a college education, we don’t care if you go to the NHL, we don’t care if you get drafted, we just want you to have a scholarship and get an education. I didn’t really get it at first. I wasn’t really familiar with this college thing, and yeah, I just came to Beantown last summer. Didn’t know anything and I signed with KUA one week before I came to prep school and I got some (D1) offers pretty soon after that.
OTB: So, where Penn State’s concerned, why did you decide to decommit?
AG: Penn State is the first college I ever saw, I didn’t really know what college hockey was at first, coming from Quebec. When I got there I was just amazed by all the facilities and that’s what really got me. I didn’t really know what my options were. Coming to the US was a big decision for me, and I think it was the right decision because I got to prove myself academically and on the ice. Where I was before, when I committed, and where I am now, I think I could have gone to a better ‘hockey’ school – closer to home, but also a better hockey tradition.
OTB: What do you feel about, right now, a lot of players are committing at a pretty young age and some of them might come into the same boat (as you). You’re a guy who committed fairly young, what do you think about the whole process of committing so early?
AG: I mean, it all depends on the person. If you think that you’re set, and there’s no looking back, commit as early as you want… for me, and for my family, I think it was more of a time decision. We were just really flattered and didn’t really think things out.
OTB: You think you made the decision too soon?
AG: Yeah. I really want time, and I started having doubts. I didn’t really talk about it, then I talked to my family and my advisor, and they talked to me about it but they wanted me to be closer to home. My parents didn’t go to college so I wanted to share the college experience with them, come to the games and have a shared experience.
OTB: Do you think you’re going to take a little while to decide, this time around? Or are you gonna go for it sooner rather than later?
AG: I’m not sure. It’s all a matter of time. Whatever happens happens, it’s gonna be a family decision and I’m gonna review it with my advisor. Right now I’m looking at Hockey East, closer to home. Whatever pops up, I’ve been contacted by a couple schools but I’m just gonna take my time. I can’t say a date right now, it’ll be soon, but not like, two weeks.
OTB: Was the Q(MJHL) ever an option you considered?
AG: No, I was always in the “college entourage”, my godfather went to UVM and played with Marty St. Louis and Tim Thomas. I never had a person in my family go to the Q, no one talked about it. The Q, with what I value and what my parents value, it was just not a good fit for me.
OTB: Some players, it makes sense, I don’t think there’s any reason why any particular route would “always” be a negative when there are so many different situations in every league.
AG: Yeah, it’s different for everyone, you know? If you’re not as strong at school and have a great shot at making the NHL, the Q would be your route. In the Q – I’m not trying to downgrade it or say it’s not good – but you can get traded and moved around. One of my buddies got traded three times in a year, and it’s your only option once you’re there. One thing about college hockey, even if I break my leg, break two legs and can’t walk or play hockey, I’m always going to have an education.
OTB: How was your season last year?
AG: Great group of guys, you know, couldn’t have asked for a better group. They helped me through a lot, academically, they’d see if I had difficulty in anything and always help me out. We had two great captains, Doyle Somerby and Alex Carle and Mike Levine, doesn’t get better… I couldn’t have asked for a better first year at prep school. I loved it. The hockey, when I heard there were only 30 games I was bummed, but with fall hockey it’s alright.
OTB: I like that the games matter more, too.
AG: Yeah, you’ve only got 30 games to show what you’ve got.
OTB: This year, you guys lost a lot, how is the adjustment going to be now that you’re going to be one of the guys who has to ease the newer guys into the schedule and bear a little more of the load, too?
AG: This year, JD and I are co-captains, he’s a great kid, hard worker, natural talent, you know? He’s probably the guy that works the hardest at school without making it look hard (laughs), he’s just a natural hockey player. For me and him to be the leaders, with all the new guys, we lost like 14 or something guys, I just want to do the same thing the guys did for me last year.