2001-born forward Arlo Merritt of Kimball Union Academy recently announced his commitment to play college hockey at Ohio State University. Merritt, a tall, athletic forward with a smooth stride, big frame, soft hands and solid offensive instincts, was a key cog in the team depth that helped lead KUA to the 2017 Elite 8 championship. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Merritt, like other eastern Canadian players in recent years, has opted for the New England prep school route to prepare himself for college hockey. The 6’-2”, left-shot forward, who posted a 5-6-11 line in 33 games played on a stacked KUA team this past season, is poised for a strong junior year. Neutral Zone caught up with Merritt this week to ask him a few questions about his start in hockey, his first year at KUA and his recent commitment to Ohio State.
Tell us a little bit about the early years of your hockey career – how did you get started in the sport and what teams did you play for?
I started skating at age 2 in my backyard. That was the first year that my father Aaron made a backyard rink; he has every winter since. I officially started playing with the Halifax Hawks Minor Hockey association at age 5 until my Major Bantam year at 15.
Who were some of your early hockey influences – coaches, family or hockey idols etc. that inspired you?
My old baby sitter Brian Reardon was a big role model for me at a young age, he played locally in the Major Midget league. Brian would come over and skate with his new sticks, I thought it was really cool and wanted to be like him when I got up through the levels.
How were you first exposed to New England prep schools and both the hockey and academic opportunities they provide?
I had heard of some local guys going down to prep schools every year so I was aware of them. I was always interested in going to school and playing hockey in that kind of environment, so when the time came to move on we jumped on the opportunity.
What factored into your decision to go to Kimball Union Academy? Did you consider any other schools? Did you consider staying in Canada and playing junior hockey?
I looked at four schools and it ultimately came down to two. However, I had the best feeling about KUA and what Coach Whitehead had done in previous years. Obviously being from Canada you grow up watching the CHL and that’s the path most choose, but I was keen on continuing my academics at a high level and playing college hockey.
What has the transition been like going from the Nova Scotia Major Bantam league to New England prep?
It was a bit of a jump. Whenever you go from playing kids your own age and a year younger, to prep with guys four years older than you, it’s going to take a bit of time to adjust. Although after a few games, I feel that I adjusted to the strength and speed of the league.
What has your educational experience been like so far at KUA?
I’ve been very pleased with the academics at KUA. It also took a bit of time to adjust to the schedule and work load. Once I settled into the routine it made everything a lot easier.
KUA obviously has a tremendous coaching staff in coaches Whitehead, Harris and Underhill. What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned from your coaches so far at KUA in terms of either the technical specifics of your game or your overall development as a person and player?
They’re all great coaches with lots of experience, which obviously played a huge part in our win. I’ve learned so much from them all it’s hard to single out something from the technical side of things. Coach Whitehead has taught me and the others how to own our roles as younger players, and how to contribute to the team without necessarily being on the top few lines.
You recently committed to Ohio State University. Can you tell us a little bit about your recruiting process, how you decided on OSU and what other schools were interested in you?
I had looked at several schools for over a year. I wasn’t in any rush and was just trying to feel it all out. When I visited OSU I had a really good feeling, something I never felt with all the other schools. Coach Rohlik and staff are doing a great job and I couldn’t be more excited to join their program in years to come.
What are your plans for the upcoming season? Will you be returning to KUA?
I am returning to KUA with the intention of having a solid junior year. We should have a strong team again, which will be exciting.
What do you think some of your strengths are as a player? Are there any parts of your game that you want to improve upon?
I think I’m a good 200-foot player. The defensive part of the game is just as, if not more important than the offensive part. I like to move the puck to my teammates and sometimes put the puck in the net. I need to improve my skating. No matter what level you’re at you can always improve your stride and edges. I will continue to work hard at these aspects of my game.
Fun Facts with Arlo Merritt
Favorite pre-game meal? Chicken parm
Favorite NHL player? Jamie Benn
Toughest defenseman in New England prep hockey to play against? Peter Diliberatore (Salisbury)
Favorite New England prep rivalry? Cushing Academy
Favorite rink for an away game? Holderness School
Who’s the single hardest-working player you’ve been around in your career and what have you learned from them? I recently took part in the Canadian U17 National Development Camp in Calgary. Peyton Krebs was on my team and someone I became friends with. Something I learned from him was that it doesn’t matter how skilled you are, you always have to work your hardest at everything you do.
Photo Credit: Hickling Images