Highland Park’s Kieran Jagadeesh is no giant

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Highland Park junior Kieran Jagadeesh stands 5-foot-7 and tips the scale at … 108 pounds.

So naturally his activity of choice is hockey, one of the roughest and toughest sports out there. How does he not only hold his own but play a key role as a center on the second line for the Giants, one of the area’s best teams?

You can’t check what you can’t catch.

“My teammates say that I’m slippery,” Jagadeesh said. “I’m able to use my [quickness] to avoid hits.”

Highland Park coach Sean Freeman quipped that Jagadeesh is like Barry Sanders on skates.

“When we do sprints he’s not out in front, but you just can’t get to him,” Freeman said. “He’s like a fly you can’t swat.”

Freeman marveled at Jagadeesh’s toughness.

“He’s fearless and much stronger than you would think,” Freeman said.

Freeman said Jagadeesh is capable of both the routine play and the spectacular one.

“Other than Noah Pickus, he makes more plays that bring everybody on the bench to their feet,” Freeman said. “He’s a great faceoff guy and always is in the right position. His hockey IQ is off the charts.”

Added senior Brice Saul, “When he has the puck on his stick, we know he’ll make the right decision. He knows everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Jagadeesh was drawn to hockey at a young age. His mom signed him up for skating lessons at age 3 and he immediately was intrigued by the hockey practice that was going on at an adjacent rink.

“I would skate over there, and pretty soon my mom put me into hockey,” he said. “I’ve loved it ever since.”

As a freshman, back when he weighed 95 pounds, Jagadeesh still earned himself a spot on the varsity. He tried to learn as much as he could from the older players. For instance, Alex Block encouraged him to be a student of the game in between shifts and pay particular attention to faceoff technique.

“I learned a lot from him,” Jagadeesh said. “I changed the way I do faceoffs and that improved my game.”

This season, Jagadeesh has 11 goals and 15 assists for the Giants (33-8-6 through Monday). Highland Park plays Crystal Lake South at the Sears Centre Arena Thursday in the second game of a best-of-three-series in the Northern Illinois High School Hockey playoffs. Although the Giants outshot Crystal Lake South, they dropped the opening game of the series, 4-1.

One of Jagadeesh’s most valuable contributions is his ability to kill penalties. Jagadeesh and Saul have combined to thwart countless opponents on power plays this season.

“We’ve scored more goals on penalty kills than the other team,” Saul said. “That’s a big momentum swing.”

Jagadeesh said he takes a lot of pride in killing penalties.

“I enjoy being out there in [those] situations,” he said. “We try to get the puck out of the zone right away so they don’t have a chance to score.”

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