Kevin Guiltinan kept his positive outlook in the wake of a family tragedy.
In the last year the Prince George Spruce Kings defenceman left his home in Ontario to play in the B.C. Hockey League, finished high school, chose a path for his academic future and lost his father Chris in a car accident.
"It was kind of a worst nightmare and a best-case scenario at the same time," said the 17-year-old about his dad's death on a highway outside of Toronto in May 2012. "The silver lining is I was forced to mature a little bit earlier then most kids and take some responsibility for my life and make some big decisions at a time of distress. I think that really brought my character through and just showed me how hard work and a good work ethic go a long way in life."
When it came time for Guiltinan to decide his hockey future - join his hometown London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League or maintain his NCAA eligibility and move to British Columbia - he recalled past chats with his dad.
"We were very close," said Guiltinan. "He's my best friend. I went to him for advice on everything and I think, whenever I'm in doubt I think, of what he'd be telling me to do and go from there.
"It was a pretty big decision for me [to come to the BCHL] but my dad's dream for me was to go to an Ivy League school which made it a fair bit easier knowing he would've been smiling down on me knowing I did the right thing," he added. "I think it was for the best and it made sense."
Guiltinan fulfilled his dad's dream last fall when he committed to Harvard University for either the 2013-14 academic year or the 2014-15 year.
"He always found it pretty cool that we had opportunities to carry on our education through sport and, hopefully opportunities for us to keep playing sports for the rest of our lives," said Guiltinan, about Chris, a well-known dentist in London. "He was our biggest supporter."
His 19-year-old brother Eric is a running back for the Laurier Golden Hawks football team and attends Wilfred Laurier University on a scholarship.
After signing with Harvard last fall, Guiltinan was traded by the Vernon Vipers to the Spruce Kings in November, possibly due to his reluctance to commit for next season when they'll host the 2014 RBC Cup.
"It's probably looking like I'm going to go away to school [in September]," said Guiltinan. "I love it here and I would come back but I think if there's an opportunity for me to go to the next level and I'm going to be an impact player then I have to take it.
"I'm still going to sit down with the [Spruce Kings] coaches and management and weigh all my options and make whatever is the best decision for myself," he added.
The Harvard men's hockey team has several graduating defencemen this year so Guiltinan has the opportunity to have an immediate impact as a freshman.
Spruce Kings head coach Dave Dupas said he'd like to have the six-foot-three, 205-pound defender back next season because he brings a mature attitude to the team.
"He's upbeat," said Dupas. "As a 17-year-old he takes charge of the room. If guys aren't working hard he's a guy that's standing up and saying something. Most 17-year-old don't do that, they usually sit there and they're quiet. He's a good leader. If he's back here he's going to be a huge leader for us. He's getting more quality ice time and doing very well for us."
His name doesn't often show up on the scoresheet, having produced just three assists in the BCHL, but Guiltinan is a fan favourite for his willingness to drop the gloves. He's accumulated 100 minutes in penalties in 48 games this season.
"I like to stick up for my teammates and give us the best opportunity to win," said Guiltinan. "I'm a bit of a thug, I'll be the first one to admit it, but I think I surprise guys when they realize I'm actually smart."
But, he added, what happens on the ice is forgotten once the game ends.
"I don't like to carry things off the ice," said Guiltinan. "I respect every guy in this league."
Dupas said it's fun to listen to the on-ice conversations of the Harvard-bound scholar, who graduated high school last year from Ontario's The Hill Academy Prep with a 95 per cent average.
"He gets into this chatter with these other teams and he wins every time," said Dupas. "He comes up with things and they don't know what to say back to him. He thinks on his feet and he's really quick with a response."
Guiltinan said his game has improved since he joined the Spruce Kings.
"I've gotten a lot more patient with the puck, but I still have a lot more to do," said Guiltinan. "I think that's my biggest downfall - my puck decisions. But they embrace me here, from top to bottom the organization is awesome and, I think that's really brought out my true colours and made me thrive on the ice and off the ice."
If his dream of playing in NHL isn't fulfilled, Guiltinan said he'll continue his education at Harvard towards his master's degree in business administration and pursue a future in business management.
Dupas said scouts from "at least half" of NHL teams have inquired about the defenceman.
Guiltinan was ranked 141st among North American skaters in the midseason NHL Central Scouting rankings. Last year, former Spruce Kings forward Jujhar Khaira was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the third round of the NHL entry draft.
"It's in my mind but I try not to focus on it just because it would play head games with me," said Guiltinan. "I just try to go out every night and do what I'm good at and not change my game at all. The first goal is winning and after that the other stuff will take care of itself."
The most important thing for Guiltinan is honouring his dad's memory by pursuing his academic future.
"I want to play in the NHL, but hockey's the golden ticket for an education," he said.