What a long, strange trip it’s been, and what a great story for San Jose Sharks center Bracken Kearns.
On Sunday, December 29, 2013, Kearns scored his first NHL goal and first NHL point after swooping into the slot on a timely shift change. Andrew Desjardins and Tyler Kennedy had developed a 2-on-1 opportunity that was thwarted at first by defenseman Hampus Lindholm. But Desjardins persevered, and got the puck back behind the net, slipped a pass through Nick Bonino to the front of the net.
Kearns was there, and he banged it past Frederik Andersen for the moment that was celebrated by former Sharks captain Owen Nolan on Twitter with this aptly stated message:
The trip to this moment that every young man dreams of has been long and arduous for Kearns. Even though some of it has been in an airplane, much of it has also been rolling on the highways of North America, traveling from city to city, chasing that very dream. Let’s take a seemingly simple trip along the criss-cross path that brought Kearns to this moment:
- The journey begins at the University of Calgary, where Kearns played for the Dinos for four years.
- Undrafted, Kearns begins his pro odyssey with the ECHL’s Toledo Storm at the Toledo Sports Arena in 2005, a legendary building that inspired the progressive rock band Yes to write “Our Song,” after a concert that saw the in-arena temperature rise to 126 degrees Fahrenheit. Listen here. Distance traveled: 1,847 miles.
- At the end of the 2005-06 season, Kearns had his first contact with the Sharks organization, playing in 1 game for Roy Sommer and the Cleveland Barons, a 180 mile trip from Toledo.
- From there, the next stop was Milwaukee, playing for the AHL’s Admirals. Distance traveled: 435 miles.
- After one season in Milwaukee, Kearns split the next campaign going back and forth from Norfolk, VA to Reading, PA, and then, back to Norfolk. Distance traveled: 600 miles.
- From there, it was on to Rockford, IL, and the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs. Distance traveled: 971 miles.
- Next, Kearns hooked up with the Florida Panthers organization in 2010-11. His next move was from Rockford to San Antonio, TX. Distance traveled: 1193 miles.
- At the age of 30, after one full season in San Antonio, his first NHL dream came true, when he skated in 5 games with the Panthers after a recall from the AHL. Distance traveled from San Antonio to Sunrise, FL: 1356 miles. Back to San Antonio: another 1356 miles.
- But after that season, Kearns was a free agent. He signed with San Jose, the organization that gave him his first AHL opportunity. But this time, the destination was Worcester, MA, 2000 miles from San Antonio.
- After scoring 21 goals in Worcester and some solid reports filed out West, Kearns received an NHL call again. He flew to San Jose to play in 1 regular season game. We’ll credit him with driving miles: 3093 more on the odometer.
- With the Sharks dealing with some injuries and needing certain roles filled, Kearns played in all 7 games of the taxing series against the Los Angeles Kings, further gaining the trust of the coaching staff. He now has more games played in Stanley Cup playoff competition than in the regular season, and still has 0 points.
- It’s back to Worcester for the 2013-14 NHL season after a good training camp in California. Distance traveled: 3093 miles.
- In mid-October, Kearns is recalled to Dallas, where the Sharks are playing the Stars. He plays 10:10, and is featured on a line with Andrew Desjardins and James Sheppard. Distance traveled: 1733 miles. Back to Worcester: another 1733 miles.
- While Kearns was scoring 5-13-18 in 27 games for Worcester this season, injuries were mounting in San Jose. Raffi Torres and Adam Burish weren’t ready, Martin Havlat got banged up, and Tomas Hertl went down with a knee injury. The phone rang again in Worcester Sharks coach Roy Sommer’s office. The call is for Kearns. Distance traveled: 3093 miles.
- That fast-forwards us to the present. Kearns played in his 8th career regular season game in the NHL, and his 3rd for the Sharks. The moment arrives. He scores his first NHL goal, and is one of the stars of the game in a huge win against the top-rated Anaheim Ducks.
Kearns scored his first goal at the tender age of 32 years, 231 days, making him the oldest Shark to score his first NHL goal in a San Jose uniform. The old record holder was Jay Leach, who scored his first and only NHL goal at the age of 30 years, 190 days.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot: the total distance traveled between cities, not including road trips, was 22,683 hard miles for Bracken Kearns, a still-young 32-year-old who is usually first on the ice and last off. There are still many miles to go for him, but let’s savor the moment after all of the years of hard work, perseverance, and dedication. It’s a great story.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.