"The last two years, it was a bit of a battle to get established in the AHL. This year, I expect to get going off the hop. Every season it seems like it's been a challenge to get going. This is definitely the most secure year. Having said that, I have a ton to prove."
-- Bracken Kearns
In case there's anyone left out there still wondering, yes, Norfolk center Bracken Kearns
is indeed the son of former longtime Vancouver defenseman Dennis Kearns
"It's pretty funny. Usually it's halfway through the season that anybody knows my dad played hockey," Bracken said. "It was a long time ago. He definitely was good in his time."
For those who happened to follow Dennis' career, it should surprise no one that when it comes to hockey, Bracken is absolutely his father's son. Dennis plugged away for years until he earned a little job security; the same may be coming true for Bracken, 27.
In a career-first, Bracken enters a training camp with more answers than questions about his ability. He's coming off a season in which he contributed 25 points in 53 games for the Admirals, eventually earning status as an alternate captain and an AHL contract that covers him through 2008-09.
"The last two years, it was a bit of a battle to get established in the AHL," he said. "This year, I expect to get going off the hop. Every season it seems like it's been a challenge to get going. This is definitely the most secure year. Having said that, I have a ton to prove."
That's something of a family tradition.
Dennis was a lightly regarded junior player who was never drafted and didn't make his NHL debut until he was 26. Still, compared to the path taken by his son, Dennis was a blue-chipper.
Bracken was a standout athlete as a youngster, but in golf, not hockey. He quit halfway through a Tier II Junior A season and went a year without playing competitive hockey. He was a walk-on at the University of Calgary who worked so hard and played so well that he was captain of the team as a senior.
Last season, he started out with Reading of the ECHL before getting a break when Manitoba wanted to call him up. But he suffered a concussion and was unable to go. Norfolk eventually found a spot for him, and he should have a home there this season.
"That's one of the things that's kept me going. I haven't had a lot of breaks," Kearns said. "If you can make it through the setbacks, then you're set. I think anything can happen to me, and I can recover from it. With my style of game, I don't think I'll ever be complacent. It's just that this year, I'll play with a little more confidence."
Oh, and one tip to teammates looking to kill a little spare time in the fall or spring: Kearns also plays that way on the golf course.
He claims to be a little rusty, but he's a scratch golfer who knows how to round into shape in time to pluck away a wager or two.
"It's actually a lot of pressure. We'll go out in the spring time, I haven't played in six or seven months. I'm supposed to be this fancy golfer," he said. "There're a lot of hockey players who say they are good golfers, but end up pretty brutal. I think they get a little scared."
Cassidy starting over in Providence
-- Even at age 43 and six head-coaching jobs into his career, Bruce Cassidy
is willing to circle back and start over again.
That's why he'll be second in command in Providence this season.
Cassidy, former coach of the NHL's Washington Capitals
, has accepted a position as Rob Murray
's assistant with the P-Bruins. Cassidy was the AHL coach of the year with Grand Rapids in 2001-02 and has also led teams in Indianapolis (IHL) Jacksonville (ECHL), Trenton (ECHL) and, most recently, Kingston (Ontario Hockey League).
It is very unusual for an ex-NHL head coach to take an assistant's spot in the AHL. But Cassidy admitted to bottoming out in Kingston, where he was fired after two seasons.
"Going back to junior and not having success didn't help," he said. "That's a situation I thought would work out better. It forced me to take a step back. Hopefully in a couple of years there will be a situation that allows me to get back in the big chair."
For now, Cassidy should find plenty of comfort where he is. Cassidy is friends with Boston General Manager Peter Chiarelli, who was assistant GM with Ottawa when Cassidy coached farm team Grand Rapids.
"There's lots of ways you can look at it. For me, it's an opportunity to get back to the pro level with an organization I respect a lot," Cassidy said. "Rob is a young guy. Hopefully, we can mesh well together."
In other news, Jay Wells
has been hired as an assistant in Manitoba. Wells is a former AHL assistant in Portland and Hershey.
Hirsch turning over new Leaf
-- Project Pogge has a new foreman on the job.
The Maple Leafs have hired former NHL goalie Corey Hirsch
as the organization's goalie coach. While he'll work with all the netminders in the system, his main focus will be on tinkering with Justin Pogge
. The top prospect had a strong second season last year, and Hirsch sees him as a strong candidate for the way he thinks you have to construct elite goalies these days.
"There's only a few (great natural goalies). You have to build a Martin Brodeur
, a Patrick Roy
(for your own)," he said. "You have the tools there, you have the goalie. Now you have to mold them. He (Pogge) has got tons of athletic ability. He just needs to mature and develop. He did well when he was younger. Obviously, the expectations were higher for him (when he turned pro)."
"He (Pogge) has got tons of athletic ability. He just needs to mature and develop. He did well when he was younger. Obviously, the expectations were higher for him (when he turned pro)." -- Corey Hirsch
Hirsch joins Toronto after working in the Hockey Canada program, a post that allowed him access to a wide range of young prospects but for only a short time.
"I'll be a lot more concentrated on fewer guys," he said of his new job. "This will be a little more teaching with minor-league goalies. I'd like to help some of these younger guys along."
Putting out the fire
-- Syracuse Crunch forward Adam Pineault
spent much of his summer doing virtually nothing, and for that the community of Hilliard, Ohio, is thankful.
Pineault spent his offseason in Columbus, and worked as a volunteer firefighter in the suburb of Hilliard. Despite putting in 10-12 sessions at the firehouse, a true fire call never came in when he was on duty.
"I guess I'd call myself a saint," Pineault said. "Every time I was there, nothing was wrong."
Pineault, a third-year pro, has long held an interest in firefighting. He figured he'd get a close-up look this summer, so he went online for department numbers and started calling around until Station 83 said sure, come on in.
"I said, 'I'm with the Blue Jackets. I'm looking for something to do for the summer,"' Pineault said. "Next think I knew, they had the red carpet out."
Pineault got Columbus' permission to give it a try, although the Blue Jackets strictly limited him to non-dangerous situations. He cleaned hoses, refilled the trucks' water supplies, went on a few medical ride-alongs and got a chance to soar up 200 feet atop a ladder.
"There's more knowledge to it than you think," Pineault said of his new venture. "One thing with firefighting and hockey, (they are) a team sport. In both firefighting and hockey, if you can count on the guy behind you, that's good."