By Allison O’Donnell | AHL On The Beat
Many kids who grow up in sports will tell you they were shaped by an idol at an early age, someone they’ve looked up to since day one. Many kids even try and to model their games after that player.
Hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe shaped many of today’s superstars. And guys like Sydney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares are no doubt shaping the next generation of stars. But for Sound Tigers alternate captain, Bracken Kearns, his ‘hero’ was much more then someone he just watched on TV, it was also his father.
Dennis Kearns played 10 seasons in the National Hockey League with the Vancouver Canucks, and was most certainly the Bridgeport veteran’s inspiration to play the game.
“My dad was my hero,” Kearns said, as he smiled from cheek to cheek. “He retired the same year I was born … but being able to go into dressing rooms and meet players always stuck with me.”
Dennis, a defenseman in The League from 1971-1981, racked up 321 points in 677 NHL games. The Canucks blue-liner also played for Team Canada in the 1977 and 1978 World Championships. Despite playing different positions, Dennis’ passion for the game rubbed off on his son.
“Knowing he played the game helped me fall in love with it. It made me be the best I could be,” Kearns added.
Kearns’ love of the game started with his dad and, like many kids growing up in Canada, dates back to some of his earliest memories.
“It was great growing up in a Canadian city like Vancouver, as soon as you’re able to walk, you learn to skate,” Kearns joked. “ I was probably two or three when I first skated.”
The 35-year-old AHL veteran is one of the more seasoned players on the Sound Tigers’ roster, but Kearns, hasn’t skipped a beat while playing in his 12th professional season. Kearns currently leads the Sound Tigers in goals (16) and points (35), placing him in the top 15 in the entire American Hockey League.
Now Kearns, a father of three girls, is eager to get them out on the ice, just like his dad did with him.
“My daughters are already on the ice and learning to skate,” Kearns said. “They’re so enthusiastic about getting out there. It reminds me a lot of myself at that age. It’s something I will cherish as a father for a very long time.”
Kearns is leading by example both at home, for his daughters, as well as for the younger players on the Sound Tigers. While he plays super dad at home, once Kearns gets to the rink and laces up his skates, he sets himself to hockey mode.
“When I’m at the rink, I try to put maximum effort into my job,” Kearns said. “Not only for my benefit, but with an ‘A’ on my jersey, I’m a leader in the room. I try to lead by example, just as I do for my girls at home.”
His fatherly duties never end. The 6’0, 195-pound forward knows that being a 12th-year pro and sporting a letter means he’s always under the watchful eye of teammates, especially the rookie class.
“I’m relatively quiet in the locker room. I don’t normally go out of my way to give advice. Instead I try to display myself the right way on and off the ice and hope the younger guys learn from that,” Kearns said.
With nearly 800 professional games under his belt including 33 NHL contests, he is someone that rookies like Josh Ho-Sang, Michael Dal Colle, and Devon Toews lean on heavily. In a quiet manner, he embraces that role.
In the last decade, Kearns has become a father to his three girls at home and a father figure to dozens of teammates in more than a handful of dressing rooms. He provides them guidance, direction and support, all things he’s learned from his father since day one.