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After having a successful senior season at Bemidji State University and getting a taste of the ECHL, Virden’s Tyler Kirkup is excited for his first full professional hockey season.
The son of Kary and Suzanne Kirkup played six games for the ECHL’s Reading (Penn.) Royals last season after BSU’s campaign wrapped up. This fall the two-way centreman is trying out for the Leigh Valley Phantoms, the Allentown, Penn. team that serves as the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers’ top minor league affiliate.
When asked what he is looking forward to about his first full pro season, Kirkup said “To learn from a lot from the older guys and see what it takes to be a pro hockey player and the lifestyle of it.” After successfully balancing hockey and academics for four years in Minnesota, Kirkup is also excited to have more time to focus fully on the game he loves.
Kirkup, who worked this past summer in accounting at J&G Homes in Brandon, graduated from BSU with a finance, entrepreneurship, and management degree in business. During his time there, he earned conference All-Academic Team and Scholar-Athlete honours. On the ice, Kirkup capped his college career with his best season.
“I thought Tyler was a really strong two-way centreman for us,” associate head coach Travis Winter said. “He played a lot of important minutes. I think just the experience over the course of four years really helped him. He really evolved into that role. He was really a big part of our team as he was an upperclassman on a couple really good teams that we had.”
The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder was fourth on the Beavers with 12 goals in 39 games. He recorded 18 points. Kirkup was second among BSU forwards with 24 blocked shots. He earned Central Collegiate Hockey Association Forward of the Week honours in October 2021 after recording a goal and an assist in one contest versus the University of North Dakota and following it up with a two-goal outing against the same opponent.
At BSU, Kirkup made strides each season.
“He was a big, strong kid and the game started to slow down for him,” Winter said. “He’s got hockey sense. We were able to play him in different types of situations – offensively and defensively, which added to the minutes he played for us.”
The coach praised Kirkup for being good on faceoffs, his reliability, and his leadership. Kirkup was an assistant captain last winter.
“He was a great teammate,” Winter said. “He was a really good leader. He was a wonderful kid to be around every day. He loved his teammates and he loved the game.”
Kirkup enjoyed many aspects of his time at BSU.
“It was only four years, but I made some of the best friends that I have now,” Kirkup said. “It was awesome. I got to experience going to university and playing a sport, which was pretty cool. I’m just going to miss hanging out at the rink with everybody, hanging out with the people I live with. Just all the friends I made.”
After getting a taste of the ECHL last season, Kirkup said he felt the college game prepared him well for the speed of the pro game. He felt that the college game was more defensive and system-oriented. Kirkup enjoyed his first taste of pro hockey.
“The guys were awesome,” he said. “They were great guys. I got to know them. I made quite a few buddies on the team before I left. The coaches were good. The organization was awesome. They had a great rink. It was fun to play there.”
No matter where he has played, Kirkup has had the support of his family. His older sister, Karissa, also played university hockey and now coaches at the U15 AAA level. She texts and Facetimes him and offers advice. Of his parents’ support, Kirkup said:
“My parents will text me before pretty much every single game and wish me good luck. … When I was at school, they made it to a ton of home games, which was still a six- or seven-hour drive. When I was playing on the road, they’d watch every single game online. It’s been great.”