Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
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Jackson Krill is used to putting in the work to accomplish his hockey goals.
The Merritt Centennials forward was cut from his Atom rep team in Port Moody, B.C. his first year of tryouts and played House hockey for the season. He was cut from West Van Academy’s Bantam prep team a few years later after playing for the varsity team the year before.
Even in the BCHL, it took him almost a full two years and a change of scenery to get his game where he thought it could be.
Despite playing for six different organizations in the past seven years and seemingly changing teams, schools and cities on a year-to-year basis, one thing has remained consistent for Krill – his work ethic and his determination.
“That’s kind of been the story of my life,” said Krill, reflecting on some of the disappointments he has endured over the years in his young hockey career. “People develop and hit their peak at different ages. If you’re young and you’re small and haven’t hit your growth spurt or haven’t been doing as well as you want to, just keep working.”
Krill, now 18 years old, grew up in Port Moody and played his minor hockey in that association. Although it is a fairly small town, Port Moody has produced a surprising amount of high-level hockey talent, including familiar BCHL names like Kent Johnson, Jeff Tambellini, Jeff McLean and Ryan Tattle.
But, as is always the case with talented young hockey players, there comes a time where they need to look elsewhere and find stiffer competition if they want to advance in their careers. That was no different for Krill who ended up looking to the North Shore for his next hockey stop, playing for West Van Academy’s under-15 varsity team.
West Vancouver is not hundreds of kilometers away from Port Moody, but it is still a trek to get there, especially during rush hour. That led to a unique travel routine for Krill and many of his teammates that season.
“We would leave our hockey gear in a shipping container at the rink,” he said. “We would get our school stuff together and take the West Coast Express train down to Waterfront Skytrain station [in Downtown Vancouver] at 13 years old. It was a trip, but it was lots of fun. I have lots of good memories of waking up early and getting on the train at 7 a.m. and meeting the other guys. Not many of us were from the area at West Van Academy, so we would have guys from Burnaby and Richmond meeting us at Waterfront and we would all bus together. It was fun. A lot of us learned how to be on our own. It was a cool experience.”
That summer, Krill set a personal goal of making West Van Academy’s Bantam Prep team. He ended up getting cut, which is nothing to be ashamed about when you look at that roster and see names like expected 2023 first-overall NHL draft pick Connor Bedard , but it was a disappointment nonetheless. Krill ended up playing that year at Pacific Coast Academy in Victoria, had a solid year at nearly a point per game and used it as a springboard to make the Burnaby Winter Club Elite 15s squad the following season, which really put him on the map as the team’s second-leading scorer with 45 points in 34 games.
With things trending in such a positive direction and his stock rising in the eyes of the hockey world, he earned a spot at camp with the Trail Smoke Eaters in 2020-21 and ended up making the roster, which came as a surprise even to Krill, given how young he was.
“My goal wasn’t really to make the BCHL as a 16-year-old,” he said. “But that summer, I just put my head down and worked my butt off and, by the time Trail’s camp came around, I put on a show and shocked the coaches there and earned myself a roster spot. That was an unbelievable experience.”
Krill was a regular in the Smokies lineup, playing 14 of the team’s 20 games in the pod season and chipping in with a goal and two assists. With a year of BCHL experience under his belt, he started his sophomore season with high hopes, but only managed one goal in 16 games and often found himself out of the lineup. He was eventually dealt to the Merritt Centennials at the league’s trade deadline and that was when he started to gain confidence and began to find the back of the net.
Krill scored six goals and added a couple helpers in 26 games down the stretch for Merritt, while playing night in and night out. The change in scenery seemed to unlock his game in the BCHL.
When he was acquired, Merritt had only won two games on the year and would go on to win just one more. Despite that, Krill only viewed it as a positive fresh start and a chance to play an increased role.
“The biggest thing for me was just getting more opportunity,” he said. “I had two years under my belt, so at that point, I knew what I needed to do to be successful. I had seen enough video, played enough games and had enough practice in the league. Having that experience and opportunity, mixed with my work ethic, is what really helped me become the player I am today.”
The player he is today is an over a point-per-game all-star who finds himself top-10 in goals scored in the BCHL and top-20 in points. Krill has developed into a lethal goal scorer with 12 in 22 games this year and is the offensive catalyst for a Merritt team that has already doubled its win total from last year. His play is once again catching the eyes of the hockey world as he was recently voted into the BCHL’s All-Star Weekend.
Ever since he got to Merritt, he has only wanted to be part of the solution to get the team back to contention in the Interior Conference. That seemed very far away after their three-win season last year, but things are undoubtedly trending in the right direction, with much of the credit going to Krill as well as the team’s head coach Curtis Toneff, who was brought in last year midseason.
“Our biggest thing was finding players that want to be here,” said Krill. “The group that we have right now is a bunch of guys that want to be here and want to get better together. From the get-go, Curt was telling us, our goal is to make the playoffs and to win a series. That’s been our mindset. We’ve had some struggles early in the season, but our mindset hasn’t changed.”
Whether or not they accomplish their goal of making the postseason and winning a series, there is no arguing that the team is heading in the right direction. The team is having success through hard work, perseverance and dedication, which are three traits that Krill has personified throughout his entire hockey journey.