VANCOUVER -- This week just keeps getting better and better for Bracken Kearns.
First he got the call from the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, saying he'd been called up from the American Hockey League after veteran forward Martin Havlat was hurt on Saturday. Then he checked the schedule and saw the Sharks' next game was in his hometown of Vancouver against a Canucks team that his father, Dennis, played more than a decade for. Then he got put on San Jose's top line with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.
For a late bloomer with just five NHL games in eight professional seasons, it may even top playing his first NHL game with the Florida Panthers on Oct. 20, 2011.
"That was a big deal for me," Kearns said of his NHL debut, "But coming here and getting to play with Thornton and Couture, it's just incredible. I checked the schedule and I couldn't believe it, so I am pretty pumped."
Kearns will have plenty of family on hand for his first game against the team he grew up cheering for -- and still follows closely when he returns to Vancouver each summer. But his father, who played 677 NHL games on defense for the Canucks from 1971 until 1981, won't be among them because he is on a golf vacation in California and it was going to cost $500 to change his flight.
"It doesn't surprise me one bit - I just heard and had a good chuckle," said Bracken, who was born shortly after his father's last season with the Canucks. "He'll probably be a nervous wreck, so it's good he's down there."
Besides, added Bracken, his dad was able to secure the Canucks' alumni suite for the rest of the family to watch the game. It's part of a long and unlikely journey for a player who took a year off from playing Junior B nearby before walking on at the University of Calgary and turning pro four years later.
He started in the ECHL in 2005-06, but spent all of the last five seasons in the American League, earning his first call-up to the NHL last season with Florida, and a contract with the Sharks this summer.
Kearns had 13 goals, 17 assists and 63 penalty minutes in 50 games with the Worcester Sharks, earning the promotion and the top-line assignment because of his tendency to go hard to the net. It's something the Sharks have missed while scoring just 13 goals in their last 10 games.
"He's a strong player, he bulls his way to the net, he gets in and around the blue paint," coach Todd McLellan said. "Most of his goals have come within six or seven feet of the net. Playing with [Thornton] and [Couture] tonight, that will be his job and his role and he seem ready to accept it."
That may be an understatement given Kearns said there were lots of times he thought he'd be a career minor leaguer.
"Absolutely, but you keep pressing forward," he said. "I've had tons of struggles but tons of good things have happened to me over my career and I felt like I kept getting better every year. That's what kept me going."