By Matt Mackinder –
Not too many players make the jump from Tier III hockey to the Ontario Hockey League, but Kyle Bollers is a unique talent.
Spending last season with the Traverse City Hounds (now North Stars) of the United States Premier Hockey League, Bollers was one of the youngest players in the league was third on the team in goals with 29 and fourth in team scoring with 56 points.
He attended the United States Hockey League Combine last summer and also a tryout camp for the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers.
Bollers also garnered interest from North American Hockey League clubs.
Then came late August and Bollers came back to Michigan for the main camp of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.
Undrafted by any OHL club, Bollers went to Saginaw as a free agent and on Sept. 1, was offered a standard OHL contract by the Spirit, and quickly accepted.
“Growing up in Oshawa (Ont.), I spent many Sunday nights with my Poppy watching the Gens (Oshawa Generals) play,” noted Bollers. “He always joked that I should let him be my agent and that some day, I’d be playing there. After going undrafted, I started to look at other options, but my goal has always been to play at the highest level possible. I never gave up.
“Coming into camp, I knew I had my work cut out for me and that there were a lot of good players fighting for the same spots. I played with some of the guys over the summer and I’ve known a couple of guys on the team for a number of years and being around them during camp really helped.”
Bollers, who turns 18 in March, notched his first OHL goal Nov. 23 against the Flint Firebirds and said the adjustment going from the USPHL to the OHL was tough at first, but a transition that he had gradually adjusted to as the season has worn on.
“My first OHL goal, I would have liked to get it a bit earlier, but it was a great feeling to get it and was worth the wait – dream come true to get it,” Bollers said. “The first half of the year was good on a personal level. Lots of good things are happening for me and hopefully, more opportunities come along in the second half. From a team standpoint, we started off slow, but once the guys got confidence and we became more of a team, we started going in the right direction.
“The jump to the OHL was a little what I expected, but it was challenging to get up to the speed of the game.”
First-year Saginaw coach Spencer Carbery said Bollers is the type of player the Spirit can build a winning core around.
“He came in and earned his spot with his energy,” Carbery said. “He’s learning the game and learning how he needs to play at this level. Since the start of the season, Kyle has gotten a lot stronger and he’s also gotten a lot smarter. As kids find out when they make the jump to the OHL, the game no longer becomes players displaying their skills each night. In the OHL, and as you move up, you have to be an intelligent, high hockey IQ-type of player to survive. You have to make hockey reads, make decisions with and without the puck, all these things happen very quickly.
“Kyle is learning all of this and this is a big second half for Kyle. The first half, the young kids and rookies just need to fit in, just need to get it, soak it all in. Now that the second half is here, these kids have shown that they can play here and now, they have to make things happen.”
Aware of his expectations, Bollers takes a realistic approach to his daily commitments to the Spirit.
“My outlook for the second half of the season on a personal level is to be the best person I can be and try to help the team out as most as I can,” said Bollers. “I also want to be one of the best PK players out there and block as many shots as I can and get a great scoring chance each game, whether it’s me getting it or me setting up my teammate. For the team, I would hope the guys all come together and I hope we make the playoffs.”
Last season, Traverse City qualified for the USPHL national tournament and it was a season that Bollers said served as a springboard to more options this season.
“Traverse City played a huge role and I had one of my best seasons so far,” explained Bollers. “I found myself on the ice in critical moments on a regular basis and I put up some decent numbers, which really helped build my confidence. Being away from home at 16 also helped me mature and focus on hockey and school.”
And with social media being what it is, Bollers finds a way to stay in touch with his Traverse City teammates.
“Here and there, I keep up with a couple of the boys from last year,” Bollers said. “I see they’re doing very well this year and I hope they make a good run at nationals.”