Barons rookie not the only athlete in the family

by George Darkow || AHL On The Beat Archive

What does a tall, attractive, blonde cover girl from balmy southern California have in common with a hard-hitting, tough-as-nails hockey player from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan?

If you’re talking about 2012 U.S. Olympic volleyball silver medalist Jennifer Kessy and Oklahoma City Barons forward Kale Kessy, it just so happens the standout athletes are cousins. And while they hail from near opposite regions of the North American continent, they both managed to inherit a physical and mental makeup that has allowed them to ascend in the world of professional sports.

The elder of the two, 36-year-old Jennifer saw her career reach extraordinary heights in 2012 when she and her teammate April Ross captured a silver medal for the United States in beach volleyball at the Summer Olympics in London.

By the time she stood on the medal podium in London, Jennifer had already been named an All-American at the University of Southern California, won a beach volleyball world championship (2009) and signed on as a representative for cosmetics mega-corporation CoverGirl.

"It’s definitely exciting that she was able to represent her country and come home with a medal," Kale Kessy said. "We were definitely proud of her and excited for her. She put in a lot of hard work and deserved it."

At the age of 21, Kale’s career as a professional hockey player is just beginning. But much like his cousin, Kale has already proven to be ahead of many in what has been his first professional season.

"For a first-year player, Kale is more mature than maybe his age states," Barons head coach Todd Nelson said. "He’s a player that plays the game with grit and has some skill."

Standing at 6-foot-3, Kale has already made a name for himself as being one of the more physical and disruptive players in the AHL. But despite the reputation he’s created for himself at a relatively young age, he wasn’t always the big-hitting nuisance opposing teams have grown to loathe.

"Growing up I wasn’t the biggest guy," he said. "But in Saskatchewan, you’re allowed to hit [opponents] earlier than in other provinces, so that helped me establish myself as a physical, hard-working player."

The early introduction to the rougher side of hockey helped catapult Kale’s career as a blue-collar player who’s not afraid to handle the game’s dirty work. With his ambition to be the type of player his opponents hate playing against, he has given the Barons a good mix of speed, energy and toughness that not only boosts the Oklahoma City game, but also gives the Edmonton Oilers organization a valuable asset.

"He’s the type of player the Oilers are looking for in the future to bring a heavier game to the team up top," Nelson said. "[Kale is a] smart player, and I think he’s handling himself very well being a first-year player."

Now that Jennifer’s career has begun to wind down, the Kessy family legacy seems to be merely beginning another chapter in its history of athletic success, this time through Kale. Already, the Kessy family can lay claim to a world champion, Olympic medalist and international model. What the future holds for the family’s Canadian faction is yet to be seen.

Perhaps in the near future, the Kessy family can add the likes of an AHL All-Star, an NHL All-Star or Stanley Cup champion to its impressive list of accolades.

Or maybe even another Olympic volleyball standout, this time in the form of a Canadian men’s champion.

"No," Kale says with a laugh. "I’m not any good at volleyball."