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Relationship goals

Penguins prospect Brandon Hawkins is engaged to Olympic gold medalist Kali Flanagan

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

When Penguins prospect Brandon Hawkins was living on campus at Northeastern last summer, Kendall Coyne's younger sister Bailey - who plays for the women's team - invited members of the men's team to a skills session at a rink called Cyclones Arena in New Hampshire.

"Bailey found out there was a skate from Kendall," Hawkins said. "Bailey messaged some of the guys saying 'Hey, who wants to skate?' And I was the only guy who went and skated. The rest is history."

It was there that Hawkins met his now-fiancée, Kali Flanagan, a defenseman on the U.S. women's national team who was just a few months removed from winning a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Her father, Bill, owns Cyclones Arena and ran the skates that Hawkins and Flanagan participated in.

"To be honest with you, I didn't talk to her until the third skate that I came out," Hawkins said. "I made fun of her about something and she turned and threw her glove at me. That's kind of where it all started (laughs)."

Flanagan was in Pittsburgh earlier this month for a joint training camp with Canada at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. And while Hawkins was thrilled for the chance to watch her play in person, the situation wasn't without its roadblocks - literally.

After playing in the PWHPA Dream Gap Tour in Chicago from Oct. 18-20, Flanagan flew to Pittsburgh, where Hawkins picked her up from the airport. They then drove to Wheeling, where Hawkins was playing at the time. 

On Oct. 21, they were hanging out when Hawkins got a call from Wheeling head coach Mike Bavis, who asked if he had his car with him because he had just been called up to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Hawkins packed up his belongings and started making the drive to Wilkes-Barre with Flanagan. On the way, they stopped in Pittsburgh for dinner and then got back on the road. Shortly after that, Hawkins' car broke down.

"It was like 10:30 at night," Flanagan said. "We had to call his insurance company and it took forever. His flashers shut off and we couldn't get a trooper out there to sit behind us, so we called an Uber. They were so nice, we asked if they could just sit behind us with their flashers on. 

"Then we finally got picked up by a tow truck, it was like 1 in the morning. And we had to Uber the rest of the way to Wilkes-Barre because he had practice at 8 a.m. It was an adventure, but it's a funny story now."

Hawkins was re-assigned to Wheeling on Thursday, Oct. 31. The joint training camp began on Monday, Nov. 4, with Hawkins driving to Cranberry that Thursday to watch Flanagan's practice. On his way back to Wheeling, Hawkins' bad luck continued as his car broke down yet again.

Hawkins called a tow truck, with the driver saying it would be about two to three hours before he could get there. So Hawkins decided to take an Uber the rest of the way to Wheeling.

"I get in my Uber, get 15 minutes down the road and my Uber hits a deer," Hawkins said. "So my Uber needs a tow truck. You can't make this up. We stopped at a gas station and I got another Uber and finally got to Wheeling at 3:30 a.m. on Friday morning."

Thankfully, Hawkins had his car situation figured out by the time he returned to Cranberry that Sunday afternoon to watch Flanagan play in the second of two exhibition contests between Team USA and Team Canada. If he could describe her game in one word, Hawkins would call it 'fast.'

"If I try to do some of the stuff she does on her skates, I'd probably hurt myself," Hawkins said with a laugh. "Her whole game is within her edge work and her ability to skate. She's at an elite level."

After the joint training camp concluded, Flanagan stayed with Hawkins in Wheeling for a few more days. It was the perfect opportunity for them to spend some together amidst their busy schedules. 

Hawkins, 25, is in his first full professional season with the Penguins organization after joining WBS on an AHL-only deal at the end of the 2018-19 campaign following the conclusion of his senior year at Northeastern. He appeared in five games and recorded two goals.

"Ever since I've known him, I knew that his dream was to play pro hockey," Flanagan said. "He's always been working towards that goal. When it kind of came through for him at the end of the year, he was so excited. To be able to feel that for him and share that with him was great. I went up to Wilkes-Barre and watched a couple of his games, too. To see him play in his first pro games was really cool."

At the time, Flanagan, 24, was finishing her senior season at Boston College. She had taken a leave of absence the previous year to make her Olympic debut at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.

"Even just to be at the Olympics was this amazing experience," Flanagan said. "Then to play in the Olympics and actually be able to bring home a gold medal was just the craziest. It's still weird to think about."

Much like Matt Murray and Bryan Rust did the year the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2016, Flanagan and the other first-time Olympians brought a needed mix of youthful energy and enthusiasm to a team that featured a lot of players who had suffered a crushing defeat to Canada in 2014.

"We had a good mix of girls," Flanagan said. "One group who had been through it before and been through the heartbreak and knowing what happens when it goes the other way. I think that our rookie group brought up the energy in different ways. It was a good balance. We brought this lighter element."

Right now, Flanagan - who grew up in Burlington, Mass. - is living in Boston while training with the U.S. women's national team. 

They're preparing for the upcoming Rivalry Series with Team Canada, set for December 2019 and January 2020, and the 2020 IIHF Women's World Championship, set for March and April of next year. All the while, they've got the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing at the back of their minds.

"We're still going every day and training, and we're trying to get back to where we were a year and a half ago and accomplish that again," she said. "So I think you just have to plant yourself where you are now and focus on what's coming next."

Flanagan and Hawkins love being able to share their passion for hockey, and enjoy hearing each other's feedback about their play. 

"For her to be able to tell me what the game is like and what she sees is nice," Hawkins said.

Flanagan also appreciates the dynamic of knowing what the other is going through in terms of training every day throughout the course of a season.

"You're on the road, you're traveling all over the place and trying to reach these goals," Flanagan said. "I think A, it's relatable, and B, it's just easier to support that way because you know how to relate to it and you're going through the same thing on the other side. And, you get to talk about hockey! When you want to talk about your game he actually knows what I'm talking about and vice versa. So it's cool (laughs)."

They also love training together in the summer at Flanagan's dad's rink - back where it all began.

"To me, my favorite part is every day we're skating, we're training, everything is together," said Hawkins, who popped the question in June. "She brings out the best in me and I feel like I bring out the best in her. That makes it a lot more fun."

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