SPECIAL TO THE
by Mike Chambers
Denver-born center Kieran Cebrian is a bonafide Tier I Elite League 16-under star but the six-season Colorado Thunderbirds veteran had more questions than answers in 2017 when he was beginning his 14-under season with the triple-A organization. Cebrian broke his collarbone at the outset of the campaign, missed half of it, and never fully recovered until it was over. He doubted if hockey was going to take him where he wanted to go -- to junior-A, Division I, and possibly beyond.
But then he went to work. He replaced his doubts with hard work -- on and off the ice. He knew he had to want it more than the others, and he had the full support of his hard-working Saskatchewan-born parents and the T-Birds' staff.
Today, Cebrian is a proud University of Denver commit, scheduled to tentatively join the Pioneers in 2022 after playing two years of junior-A -- his whereabouts likely determined in Tuesday's USHL draft.
"It's awesome. I'm thankful and excited," Cebrian, a junior at Kent Denver High, said of his bright future.
In hindsight, the broken collarbone undoubtedly sparked Cebrian's work ethic, leading to his two-year stint with the Thunderbirds' prestigious 16U team. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound Cebrian is coming off a monster coronavirus-shortened season, producing 33 goals and 94 points in 62 games.
He served as team captain in his second year with the 16Us under new coach David Clarkson; he became a rare 15-year-old at that level in 2018-19 under coach Angelo Ricci.
"When I was 14 with my collarbone, I didn't play as much and didn't get as much attention," Cebrian said. "I think having to keep working hard (led me to) eventually committing to DU. When I was younger I didn't see that in the future."
But this young man was born to be a Pioneer. He was raised in the Wash Park neighborhood by DU and began playing hockey at age 4 for the Jr. Pioneers.
"It's cool, like a full-circle," Cebrian said of going to a Pioneer mite to a blue-chip Pioneer college recruit.
Cebrian didn't stay with the Jr. Pioneers for long. He switched to the Krivo School of Hockey until he was 10 and then played squirt-A for Arapahoe on a team coached by former Avalanche star Milan Hejduk, who had two sons, Marek and David, on the team. Hejduk and his boys have since played Thunderbirds, and Marek was recently named to the prestigious United States Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Cebrian joined the T-Birds at 11U and has been with the organization since. He is the son of Carlos and Glenda Cebrian, who met in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Kieran feels fortunate to have parents willing to support triple-A hockey and private school and he is uniquely proud to choose a college just a mile or two away from the family home. So unlike much of what triple-A is -- travel -- Carlos and Glenda will conveniently watch their Kieran's home games in college.
"My parents have to work hard but they have supported me my whole life, which I'm lucky for," he said.
Cebrian, who turned 17 on March 31, finished tied for third in Tier I Elite League 16U scoring last season with 34 points (13 goals) in 24 showcase games. But, of course, hockey's culture steers him into thanking others for his success.
"I had really good linemates throughout the year," Cebrian said. "The lines changed a lot but whoever I was playing with we always worked well together."
His strength, he and Clarkson believe, is the ability to play a complete game.
"I think I'm a good 200-foot player. I can produce offensively but also I'm responsible defensively," Cebrian said. "I play in all situations. I play the penalty kill, on the power play -- I think I can be used anywhere on the ice."
Although he's a lefty, Cebrian says his idol is the right-shot Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, but his favorite NHL team is the Maple Leafs because his grandparents live in Toronto.
He credits much of his success to Coach Clarkson, the former 570-game NHL forward who stepped in for Ricci when the long-time Thunderbirds director became the Philadelphia Flyers' skills coach last fall.
"He's a great coach," Cebrian said of the Toronto-born Clarkson. "He helps all the kids on our team to be responsible and treats us like adults. I think that led us to become a real tight team. Every practice you learn something, whether it's positioning on the ice or something off the ice about how to behave.”
Coach David Clarkson speaks highly of Kieran too, stating, “Cebrian was one of the best kids, both on and off the ice, that I have had the opportunity to coach. The leadership group with this team was one of the main reasons that we had as much success this season as we did.”