No one's ever questioned Bracken Kearns' work ethic. But the Norfolk Admirals forward hardly ever fought last season after being called up from the ECHL. This isn't unusual; some players just don't go in for fisticuffs. What is out of the ordinary is seeing one go from pacifist to pugilist as Kearns has done this season.
The British Columbia native hasn't just dipped his toe in the punching pool, he's done a belly flop. Last season Kearns fought only twice, both times against Hershey super pest Louis Robitaille. This winter, he's dropped the gloves five times against as many different opponents.
In a recent game against Manchester, Kearns jumped in front of a Monarch determined to box with Norfolk's Vladimir Mihalik and wound up fighting the opponent himself. Adding to the effect are Kearns' ferocious expressions while duking it out.
Kearns said he's made a conscious choice to fight more often, believing he needs to show at least a bit of temper to enhance his chances of reaching the NHL.
“Fighting is part of this team's identity and I've kind of always wanted to but never knew how,” said Kearns, who played Canadian college hockey, where toe-to-toe scraps aren't a big a part of the action. “It was never in my game but if I want to be in the NHL I have to do more than I'm doing now.”
Kearns has sought tips from teammates Zenon Konopka and Jay Rosehill and while he's hardly pounding foes into submission, has acquitted himself well when he's chosen to drop the gloves. Norfolk coach Darren Rumble approves of the trend.
“He does it when he thinks we need a spark and I love it, because often times, that wakes everyone up,” Rumble said. “It shouldn't have to be Rosehill or [Brent] Henley every time. Sometimes it's more meaningful when a guy who doesn't fight often does it. If you're sitting on the bench, you realize that guy cares and you have to take a look at your own game.”
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Fighting is also an issue for Mihalik, who rarely engages in it despite being 6 foot 7 and 222 pounds. Many fans expect someone so big to be aggressive and skilled with his fists, but that's not naturally part of the Slovakian's identity. He fought in Philadelphia earlier this season but was dropped with one punch and missed a good chunk of time that night because his cut face needed repairs.
“Vlady got his bell rung once this year but he's also done pretty well a couple times,” Rumble said. “I'd like to see him have another (fight) real soon, just to get back on the bull. He's a great guy and that's not in his character, but he's got to find a way to develop some nastiness.”
Developing prospects are taught to improve their skating, shooting, passing and body checking, so why not fighting as well? Rumble pondered the question for a moment before answering.
“Not that we're trying to turn [Mihalik] into a fighter, but it's not a bad idea,” the coach said. “It would probably give him a comfort level that he could play a little harder and if push came to shove and he had to answer the bell, he could take care of himself, or at least hang on.”
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Admirals radio broadcaster Pete Michaud and goaltender Mike McKenna write entertaining blogs that appear on the team's web site. Michaud recently interviewed players about their pets and uncovered the fact that Konopka, who's allergic to dogs and cats, has a rabbit named Hoppy.
McKenna devoted a recent entry to memories from himself and his teammates about playing hockey while growing up. He wrote that Norfolk defenseman Scott Jackson
, a farm boy from Salmon Arm, British Columbia, “was fond of shooting pucks on his wooden deck at all hours of the evening, utilizing a strategically positioned flood lamp to illuminate the surface. Although it was great training, it created quite a racket.
“Oddly enough, his parents weren’t particularly annoyed with it, but some on the farm were. It turns out that Scott’s shooting was driving the cattle completely bonkers, and fearing a full-fledged stampede, his father was forced to curtail the noise pollution by placing several layers of tarps over the decking. With the bovine situation under control, Scott went back to developing his shot into the devastating cannon we know today.”
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If you're having a bad day around Scope, the office of Admirals general manager Mike Butters is a good place to ditch the blues. In addition to being approachable, Butters seemingly has a story to go with any conversational topic. This week he rolled out the tale of how he owned a bar called The Bottoms Up Cantina while playing and working in the front office for a team in Bakersfield, Calif.
The bar had a World War II theme initially, but Butters worked on turning it into a sports bar and bought a Zamboni for the purpose. Not just any Zamboni, but allegedly the second one of those machines ever made. The Bakersfield arena bought a new one and sold Butters the relic for $200 bucks.
Not only did Butters put the Zamboni in the bar, but he took off the steering wheel and installed a bench seat and made that area a perch for the DJ. Old Zambonis had open tops and a belt of sorts came up and moved over the top from front to back, dropping in the snow. On occasion, Butters would get a pickup truck load of snow shavings from the Bakersfield rink, dump it in the old Zamboni and sell beer bottles stuck in the snow and sticking up over the top edge of the machine.
Butters said the bar closed down a few years after he sold it in the mid-1990s. One hopes the Zamboni went to a good home.