Rockford IceHogs center Bracken Kearns isn't looking to break the mold he created with hard work through the first four seasons of his pro career.
That would be pointless. Every team values the grinding effort a player like him brings to the rink, and it's made him a popular guy wherever he's gone. He just figures it's time to show his game can pop out of that mold in a variety of different shapes.
Like that of a scorer, for instance.
Kearns' 23 points (7-16) in 36 games are just three shy of his AHL career high, established with Milwaukee in 2006-07. That sort of ability was always there, he insisted, but it just took a back seat to establishing his nuts-and-bolts value first.
"Offense has always excited me about the sport. You are kind of put into a role. It's hard to break the mold people have of you," he said. "I was looked at as a meat-and-potatoes guy. Here, I'm looked at the same way, with a little offensive potential. I think I have a bit of an offensive upside, and I think I can prove that this year."
The IceHogs were an easy sell. Kearns, 28, spent the past two years as a fan favorite in Norfolk. When he hit the free-agent market last summer, Rockford was at the front of the line with a quick show of interest. The IceHogs backed up their courting words by giving Kearns unprecedented power play time and by dropping him on the middle of a line that includes finishers Jack Skille and Kyle Greentree.
"There's not a ton of pressure on that (checking line) type of guy. I feel there's more pressure on me this year to produce points. That's the kind of pressure you want," he said. "It's nice to play with goal-scorers because when you give them the puck they can do exciting things. As time goes on, you realize I deserve to be with these guys. I tell myself, you got here with hard work. That can't change."
Kearns' emergence as a scorer has created an interesting twist in his relationship with his father, Dennis. Dennis was a defenseman who played 677 games in the NHL, all with Vancouver.
Dennis, now something of a backseat driver, has been known to implore his son to shoot more. That's fine, Bracken says, before pointing out to his dad that his four best offensive seasons (5-46 in 1975-76, 5-55 in 1976-77, 4-43 in 1977-78 and 3-31 in 1978-79) were all predicated on giving up the biscuit to set up his teammates.
"He's a bit of a hypocrite in that sense," Bracken joked. "I know what he's talking about. But I'm a little stubborn, like he is. No matter what he tells me, there's still a good chance I'm going to pass the puck rather than shoot." For more news and info about the American Hockey League, visit www.theahl.com.
Author: Lindsay Kramer | NHL.com Correspondent