Tyler Kennedy knows Taylor Swift is trouble.
A few years ago, he and a few of his teammates attended the singer’s concert at Mellon Arena and presented her with a personalized jersey after the show – where a now infamous photo was taken to commemorate the moment. All of the guys posing with Swift – Max Talbot, Jordan Staal, Alex Goligoski and Kennedy – are now with different teams.
Kennedy’s longtime linemate Matt Cooke is also no longer with the Penguins, meaning that third line of Cooke, Staal and Kennedy that was such an important part of the team’s 2009 championship run is no more. And Kennedy joked that the “Taylor Swift curse” may be partly to blame.
“Maybe it was that Taylor Swift thing,” Kennedy laughed. “I don't think I'll be going to any concerts in San Jose with Taylor Swift, that's for sure.”
Kennedy was relaxed, open, honest and funny as he spoke to the media on Wednesday afternoon from an unfamiliar area of a familiar building – the visitors’ locker room – as he prepares for a big moment: playing the Penguins for the first time in his career.
He admitted that returning to Pittsburgh for the first time since being traded to San Jose for a second-round pick at the 2013 NHL Draft is “definitely a little bit of an emotional roller coaster.”
“I was here for six years and it was a great six years,” he continued. “I think I really grew as a person and as a player. Pittsburgh was like a second home to me, so it means a lot to be back here and I am excited to be back here.”
Guys face their former teams all the time, but Kennedy’s one of those special players as he was a homegrown talent that helped them to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins drafted him in the fourth round back in 2004 and developed him into a solid NHLer during his seven total seasons with the organization (six with Pittsburgh after one with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). Kennedy finished with 168 points (76G-92P) in 372 career regular-season games for the Penguins.
And in turn, Kennedy played a big role in helping the Penguins win the championship in 2009, recording three game-winning tallies among his five postseason goals. He scored the game-winner in Pittsburgh’s Game 6 win against Detroit that forced the Game 7 where the Penguins eventually clinched the franchise’s third Cup. Kennedy will forever have a special bond with the guys he won with, and all of that made it tough to head West even though he knew it was time for him to move on.
“There’s a lot of great friends over there, a lot of guys who went through the wall for each other,” Kennedy said of his former teammates over in the locker room he used to call home. “It was an emotional day leaving Pittsburgh, leaving a lot of good buddies over there. Pittsburgh is such a great city; I think the fans are passionate. They are great people. Just walking around people will say, 'Hey Kennedy, what's up?' Something that is nice to see and that I will hold close to me for a long time.”
But it wasn’t just the highs, including meeting his now-fiancée Brandi, that made it tough to leave; it was what he learned during the lows.
“The Winter Classic, the Stanley Cup, met my future wife here, that is a big thing too,” he said. “But also just the little things, going through the ups and downs with a team. I had my ups but even the struggles were something as a process that you never forget. You get there and you know how to get through it. I think a lot of people helped me through my career here and not just the hockey people. I learned a lot of things when I was here in Pittsburgh and I have a lot of people to thank.”
While Kennedy reminisced about his time in Pittsburgh, his former coach shared his favorite memories of winger known for his energy, tenacity and affinity to shoot the puck – which he expects to see in the game on Thursday.
“I’ve been coaching ‘TK’ and with TK in Wilkes-Barre and here in Pittsburgh for a long time,” Dan Bylsma said. “He’s seen me grow as a coach. I’ve seen him grow as a player. … I have a lot of fond memories. He’s scored some big goals. His goal in Game 6 against Detroit (in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final) in Mellon Arena was a big goal. Some memorable fisticuffs from him at times. He’ll be revved up and ready to go (Thursday).”