Kevin Kenny’s face was all smiles as he entered the Penguins locker room following their 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Jan. 3 in his custom Kevin Kenny 7 hockey jersey, and his grin grew even bigger when captain Sidney Crosby handed him a signed hockey stick.
Kenny is a 20-year-old hockey player from the area who was recently sidelined due to a spinal cord injury that occurred during his team’s game against the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks in mid-November.
Given the circumstances, Kenny remains in high spirits impacted in part by a generous Pittsburgh hockey community and a new friendship with Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.
“(Being at the game) was awesome,” said Kenny with a smile. “I mean, (Bortuzzo) is such a good guy.”
Kenny is a former Pittsburgh hockey star as he led his high school team at Quaker Valley to a state championship during the 2011-12 season. He had most recently been playing for the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Vengeance of the North American Tier III Hockey League.
Bortuzzo learned of Kenny’s injury in November and visited him in the hospital with teammate Beau Bennett. Bortuzzo said that he offered Kenny the opportunity to attend a Penguins game whenever he wanted to.
“It’s tough any time you see a young kid in his situation,” Bortuzzo said. “But the greatest thing was that he was in good spirits. He seemed like he had a great support system there with his friends and family. The work ethic he had and the enthusiasm he had to get where he wants to be was really nice to see.”
Bortuzzo explained that the hockey community is strong and will rally around a player like he is a teammate of their own.
“I think hockey is a game where no matter what level you’re at, you’re kind of one of our own,” Bortuzzo said. “For him to be a young kid and go through something like that is tough. We all know the risks we’re at every night, and it’s tough to see ... When we went and visited he was there with a couple teammates and they rallied around him. We saw the ‘Kenny Strong’ and it’s great. It’s a tight-knit community hockey and it’s something you like to see.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins have reached out to Kenny before, when the Penguins gave the proceeds of a 50/50 raffle – a little over $25,000 – to the Kenny family in early December. The Penguins are also hosting a Youth Cup Street Hockey Tournament March 8 and 9 with proceeds benefiting the Kenny family.
“The support that my family has gotten from the hockey community has been overwhelming,” Kenny said.
And through all this, Kenny remains with a smile on his face in high spirits, ready to take on whatever was going to be thrown at him next –which surely he’ll do with a grin.
From L to R: Kenny, Bortuzzo, Crosby and U.S. Paralympian Dan McCoy