Kennedy lighting it up at Michigan State

By DJ Powers

For Michigan State sophomore Tim Kennedy, life seems pretty good right now. It’s made all the better by the fact that he has regained full usage of one of his primary tools of the trade – his hands.

Early last season, Kennedy missed 16 games due to a broken bone in his hand. Despite a strong second half performance that was capped with an honorable mention to the CCHA All-Rookie Team, the effects of his injury still lingered for the Buffalo, NY native.

“When I first came back last year, there were some things that I couldn’t do as well that I could do before my hand was broken,” Kennedy said. “Our trainer said that when you break your hand it takes about six to eight months for you to completely regain the full strength of it and I could really feel that in my shots last year, as well as in my stick-handling and in the overall gripping of the stick.”

After extensive rehabilitation and training in the offseason, the left winger returned to Michigan State this season at 100 percent and looking better than ever. One noticeable improvement is his added strength. The result is a more effective Kennedy going one-on-one with opposing defenders and more durability in the physical side of the game.

What makes Kennedy such a special player are his creativity, superb puck skills and great hockey sense. He possesses a keen sense of being able to get pucks to open teammates.

Kennedy’s puck skills however aren’t just confined to setting up his teammates. He can also score some of the most beautiful goals that you’ll ever see in college hockey. Nowhere was that more evident than in the game versus archrival Michigan on Nov. 21. In a brilliant individual effort during a four-on-four situation, Kennedy went end-to-end beating nearly all four Wolverine skaters before depositing the puck behind goaltender Billy Sauer (COL).

“It looks like it’s going so fast on tape but in my own mind it was going in slow motion. I had the puck and it felt like I had forever to make a move on Sauer,” said Kennedy. “I don’t think that it’ll ever happen again because (T.J.) Hensick, (Kevin) Porter, (Jason) Dest, and (Chris) Summers were all on the ice and all four are pretty tough guys to beat all at once, so I think it was a pretty special play.”

Kennedy currently leads the Spartans in scoring with 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) while averaging 1.20 points per game. He, along with fellow sophomores Justin Abdelkader (DET) and Tim Crowder (PIT) make up Michigan State’s exciting “09” line. To date, the line has accounted for 33 percent of the team’s points and 41 percent of the team’s goals. The trio began playing together last season and proved to be a potent combination in the latter half. This season, the trio has been the Spartans most consistent line, regularly facing opposing teams’ best players. Kennedy feels that two of the keys to the “09” line’s success have been the close bond that the three players have forged both on and off the ice and simply having fun together.

“I think the main thing about our line is that we like coming to the rink and skating with each other. No one cares who gets the goals or the points as long as we win,” said Kennedy. “We just have fun. We’re not always serious, even though there are times that we have to be, but most of the time we’re all laid back and joking with each other. I think that’s a huge part of our success. When it comes time to play, we all step up and on most nights we play very well together.”

Kennedy was originally drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2005 (181st overall, sixth round) and recollects the call that he got from his father when it happened.

“It was awesome because getting drafted is your dream. To just have someone have enough respect for you and your game to want to take a chance on you is an awesome feeling. I was on top of the world when I found out that I got drafted because I really didn’t pay much attention to the draft. I was actually out on the golf course when my dad called me.”

Later, Kennedy’s rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres and the euphoria that he felt being property of his hometown team didn’t quite settle in right away.

“I was getting ready to go out with my friends to celebrate the news and a friend of mine called me and said ‘did you hear?’ and I said ‘hear what?’ Then he said, ‘You just got traded to the Sabres.’ I thought it was some big joke that he was playing one me. Then another friend of mine who works for the Sabres called me and said ‘Timmy, I just wanted you to know that the Sabres just traded for your rights. Mr. (Darcy) Regier and Mr. (Lindy) Ruff will be calling you shortly.’ So then it started to hit me and I thought, “Wow, maybe my friend wasn’t joking around.” About 10 minutes later, I got a call from Mr. Regier and Mr. Ruff just as they were driving home from the draft. That was when the reality had hit me that I had been traded to my hometown team, the team that I grew up watching with my dad and went to all of the games at the old “Aud”. It was the best day of my life.”

While Buffalo’s native son understands the significance of being selected in the NHL Draft, he is also quick to point out that being drafted is one thing but getting a chance to actually play in the NHL is a whole different feat in and of itself.

“I get all of the questions about when I’ll be playing for the Sabres but no one really knows,” said Kennedy. “Even if you do get drafted, the reality of you actually playing in the NHL is like five to six years way down the line. Whereas everyone thinks that because you got drafted that you’re going to be playing there next year and unless you’re (Sidney) Crosby or one of those kinds of guys, it’s very rare.”

Like every other young hockey player, Kennedy has his hockey idols and influences as well. His favorite player is Vincent Lecavalier, although growing up in Buffalo his idols were Rob Ray and Pat LaFontaine. All three players have qualities that Kennedy admires, He tries to pattern his style of play after Lecavalier’s.

“Vincent Lecavalier is just an unreal player who is good at many things,” he said. “He isn’t just a skill guy. He would go into the corners, he would get in a few fights when they had to be done and that’s like the kind of player that I’d like to become. I don’t want to have just one dimension to my game, I want to have three dimensions to my game – offensive, defensive and the hockey smarts. He has all of that. I think the only thing he has that I’ll never have is the fact that he’s like 6’4. I’ll never get that tall.

“Rob Ray was always good to me as well as all of the other fans and I admired that. Pat LaFontaine was always my childhood idol because it seemed like he scored in every game that I watched and hearing the “La-La-La-La-LaFontaine” chant, I thought was really cool. He also comes back to Buffalo and is always great with the community. That’s something that’s important to me too because hockey has given me so much. It’s given me a college education, some great friends and great times, so I think it’s important to give back to hockey what hockey has given to me.”

If you look up and down the Michigan State roster, you’ll notice the many players who hail from the state of Michigan as well as other regions in the upper Midwest. But Kennedy is one of three Spartans from the Buffalo area of New York. The others are junior Chris Mueller and freshman defenseman Mike Ratchuk (PHI).

So just how does a kid from Buffalo, NY end up playing at Michigan State? In Kennedy’s case, it was a combination of early exposure and knowing the family of a former Spartan player.

“When I was younger, I played with Nick Tuzzolino and his brother Tony played here at Michigan State. When I was about eight or nine, my team had a few scrimmages against teams from around the Detroit area. My coach, Nick’s parents and Michigan State had set up a tour of the campus and we got to come to a Friday night game at Munn. After that, I knew that this is where I wanted to play hockey. When I was in my first year of juniors (USHL), I had kind of a streak going and Michigan State contacted me. I had other schools lined up to visit but once I came here, I knew that I had always wanted to come here so it was just like a dream come true again and I was thankful for the opportunity that the coaches gave me to come here to play hockey and go to school.”

The relationship that Kennedy has developed with head coach Rick Comley is one built on mutual respect and understanding between not only player and coach but also between pupil and teacher.

“The biggest thing with Timmy is that I can trust him to make the right decisions,” Comley told Hockey’s Future recently. “He plays with a passion for the game and doesn’t want to let his teammates down.”

“The best lesson that he has taught me is that you can always work harder and always be in better shape than you are in,” said Kennedy of his coach. “I always liked to believe that getting skated as hard as I was, was enough, but after coming here and going through all of the conditioning stuff that we do, I think I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I kind of owe it to him because he works us so hard, but he also gives us some days off too as a reward for working so hard.”

Another individual that Kennedy holds in high regard is a player that he says is the toughest opposing player that he has ever played against in college – former Nebraska-Omaha forward Bill Thomas (PHO). Kennedy first played against Thomas during their USHL days and says that having to face Thomas whenever the Spartans and Mavericks played one another was always a daunting task.

“I played against Thomas in juniors (USHL) and I skate with him sometimes during the summer. Whenever he got the puck, he just seems to always get it right on some else’s tape or it’s right past your goalie and in the back of the net. He is just so good and so patient. He was the guy that really was the charge to their offense last year. I think he’s probably the best player that I’ve played against yet.”

While having to go up against players like Thomas is difficult, what may be almost equally as difficult is playing in the hostile environments of opposing teams’ home rinks. Kennedy lists Western Michigan’s Lawson Ice Arena and Wisconsin’s Kohl Center as the toughest road rinks to play in.

“People will ask you how can you lose to Western Michigan at Lawson? They’ll surprise you because they’re a totally different team at home than they are on the road. The rink just seems to get smaller and smaller. They just seem to hit you all the time. The fans there are always crazy when we’re there because I guess we’re one of their biggest rivals,” said Kennedy. “We played them a few weeks ago here at Munn and we beat them by like three goals. Then we got to their rink the next night and it was a reality check because they came right out of the gates hard and strong and really took it to us. That may be one of the hardest places to play. Wisconsin was pretty tough too. They’re just a big team and they love to hit. They’re a very, very talented team.”

The steady progress that Kennedy has made in his development at Michigan State has already grabbed the attention of many around the college hockey community, particularly those in the CCHA.

Like many aspiring young players who are working towards their ultimate goal of playing professionally some day, Kennedy constantly looks for ways to improve all areas of his game and become a more complete player. Two areas in particular are his play in his own zone and his shot. While there is still more work to be done, the future looks very bright for the Michigan State sophomore.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.