With Kevin Kennedy
The first hockey team I played for was the Beaver County Badgers back in my hometown near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I played there from Mini Mites and eventually I went on to play for the Pittsburgh Hornets AAA.
My dad got me into hockey. He played all through high school and ever since I can remember, he loved the game and got me into it at a young age. He works for an airline so every once in a while he’d fly us for free to out of town tournaments, which was a nice treat. Both my parents made huge sacrifices for me and I can’t even begin to imagine the hours of work they put in just to fund my hockey career. I owe everything to them.
Back in Pittsburgh, none of my friends I grew up with were really into hockey. Pittsburgh is a big football city and so all my buddies played football and some played baseball. As a kid, I didn’t mind that I was the only one because I had baseball buddies and football buddies and I also had my hockey buddies who were all from outskirt cities. But my love of hockey was definitely a product of the Mario Lemieux era. I was hooked on hockey from the minute he arrived in Pittsburgh.
I would say my favorite memories from minor hockey would be piling into the van and driving to games up in Canada or Michigan. We were in Michigan every other weekend and we would come up to Toronto and Quebec very often.
I was a paperboy all through middle school before I moved to Wisconsin to play for the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. Adam Burish, who’s now on the San Jose Sharks, was also on that team and we both got jobs working for Coca-Cola as delivery guys. We’d drive the truck around and do deliveries to grocery stores around town. In the truck, we’d talk a lot about getting to the NHL, but that was definitely a pipe dream at the time, we were just focused on getting into a good school and being successful as a team.
In Green Bay I played for a coach named Mark Osiecki, who’s now an assistant coach with Rockford in the AHL. Probably besides my parents, that guy is the biggest reason I’m here today. He believed in me. His practices were tough, but he prepared us for the next level. He’s put so many guys in the NHL; it’s incredible.
After Green Bay, I went to Ohio State and played in the NCAA and was drafted after my second year by the New York Rangers. My original plan was to leave early after three years, but I also had the lifelong dream of playing in the Frozen Four, and heading into my senior year we had a bunch of guys coming back and we were pretty set up to get there. So I went back for another year, a lot of people thought I should’ve left, but in my mind I had to go back. In the end, the season didn’t go as planned and we didn’t make it very far. I also didn’t end up signing with the Rangers, but was picked up by the Flyers at the end of the season.
I found out I was going to play in my first NHL game after a practice when I was with the Philadelphia Phantoms. We had just finished playing three games in three nights in Lowell and at the next practice the Director of Player Development, Don Luce, came up and told me I was going to be in the next game for the Flyers.
I remember it was right before a team meeting and I definitely wasn’t expecting to get the call up at the time. It was late in the season and I had a decent year with the Phantoms, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it. It was wild, I got out of the rink and called my dad right away and I think he thought I was pulling his leg. He was floored.
We started making phone calls to all our friends and family and that’s really the coolest thing about playing at this level. Just seeing the excitement on the faces of the people you love. It’s not only your hard work; it’s their hard work as well.