With Kevin Kennedy
I was born and raised in Clinton, New York and that’s where I played for my first hockey team. In Clinton, all the kids my age were playing hockey and I was kind of one of the last kids to start. I remember I had to beg my parents to let me play because all my friends were already into hockey and I wanted to try it out. After a little convincing they finally let me play.
Nobody in my family had ever played hockey before so it was kind of a new thing for everyone. Our family really enjoyed skiing, but that got thrown out the window once I started playing hockey. It took a bit of getting used to, but I think they’re happy with their decision. Youth hockey is a huge commitment on the parents and having never experienced it before, everything about it was new to them.
My dad played football in college so he was an athlete and he picked up the game pretty fast. It wasn’t too difficult for him to learn the rules and now my dad probably knows more about the game than I do because he really took it upon himself to learn the game to help me get better.
My parents still try and get out to as many games as they can, but I have a six-year-old brother who takes up a lot of their time.
The best coach I ever had was my coach in high school. I was in the eighth grade and my coach really challenged me to be a better player. He didn’t take it easy on me because I was a younger player and he opened up a lot of opportunities for me to start playing outside of Clinton. He was someone who really helped me along the way and made sure I chose the right path.
Probably the highlight of my youth hockey career was in my last season. I was still playing in Clinton in bantam and our team actually made it to the national championship in Burlington, Vermont. It was pretty awesome considering we come from a really small town and our team was made up of all the kids I grew up playing with. We all went to the same school and hung out together all the time. It was something special and me and my friends still talk about it to this day.
The only job I really had growing up was working for my dad’s construction company. I used to get roped in during the summers doing some clean up crew kind of stuff. If I wasn’t a hockey player I’d probably be working in the construction business with my dad. I like working with my hands and my grandfather actually started the company that my dad took over so it’s a family business.
I played in Clinton until 10th grade when I went to Northwood, a prep school in Lake Placid, New York. That was definitely a learning experience for me to be living away from home for the first time and being 15 years old and being used to your parents doing everything for you. I think I really matured a lot in that one year as a person and as a player. You’re on your own before games. There’s nobody telling you what to do so it kind of forces you to figure out what you need to do to be successful.
From there I went to the OHL. I remember when I got drafted to the OHL I was at school at Northwood and I had a lacrosse game that day. I was checking the computer watching the draft and I got the call from the Erie Otters welcoming me to the organization. My parents were happy that I was able to stay close and finish my high school in the U.S. and still pursue my hockey dream.
I ended up playing a little more than three years there and had a great experience. I billeted with a great family and was very fortunate to have people that took really good care of me.
In my last year of junior I played in Belleville and the next season was my first year in professional hockey and I played in Lowell in the AHL. When I got my first call-up to the NHL I was actually at home at my parents house during the AHL all-star break. My parents were there at the house with me when I got the call, which was pretty cool.
My first game was at home in New Jersey. I drove down and was able to get in a practice before the first game. I had played exhibition games before and had felt nerves then, but nothing compared to the first regular season game. But as soon as you get on the ice and you play the first shift you realize it’s not as hard as you think it is and you start to relax. I was able to get an assist on one of Travis Zajac’s goals and that was the icing on the cake for me.