Kearns' Arrival with Sharks a Lesson in Perseverance

Tuesday, 05.21.2013 / 1:34 PM PT / News
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Kearns\' Arrival with Sharks a Lesson in Perseverance
Bracken Kearns, who made his NHL debut at the age of 30, has a fourth-line role for a Sharks team fighting for the Stanley Cup.

San Jose Sharks forward Bracken Kearns already had played for seven different minor-league teams over six-plus seasons before he made his NHL debut, Oct. 20, 2011, as a member of the Florida Panthers.

Kearns turned 32 two days before making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, May 14 for the Sharks, in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings.

If the Sharks gave out awards for Most Patient Player, it undoubtedly would go to Kearns, the son of former Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dennis Kearns.

"My dad's first year in the NHL, he was 26 and he played 10 years," Kearns said. "He was a bit of a late-bloomer. He always told me in this game you need somebody to like you, a GM or a coach. Sometimes you have to go through people who aren't really big on you until you find the right situation, and this organization's been really good to me."

The Sharks, who trail the Kings 2-1 entering Game 4 Tuesday at HP Pavilion (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS), signed Kearns as a free agent July 2, 2012, and he led Worcester of the American Hockey League in goals (21), assists (25), points (46), power-play goals (11) and shots on goal (136). He was selected for the AHL All-Star Game.

Kearns played just one regular-season game this season for the Sharks, but after forwards Martin Havlat and Adam Burish were injured during a quarterfinal-round sweep of Vancouver, Kearns was in the lineup for the first three games against Los Angeles as a fourth-line forward.

"It's a cool story," Burish said. "He's worked his way up. I didn't know that until probably a week ago. Somebody was telling me his story. To work your way up like that is pretty cool. I think every guy in the locker room or any guy in hockey appreciates that because you know how hard it is. Even guys that never played in the minors, they know how hard it is just to get here. And now this guy's come from nowhere and grinded it out everywhere. Everybody gets excited hearing about that."

Kearns grew up playing hockey, but for a few years during his teens, he had his sights set on a career as a professional golfer.

"I played in the World Juniors when I was 16 in golf," Kearns said. "I played on a Team Canada team. I played in the Canadian Juniors. Played a lot over the border in Washington and Oregon -- all junior events. I was decent when I was 15 and 16 and then my game took a turn for the worse, unfortunately. But yeah, I was very competitive [in golf] as a kid."

Kearns wound up walking onto the hockey team at the University of Calgary, where he scored 83 points in four seasons while earning his degree in economics. After that, he earned a job with Toledo of the ECHL. Minor-league stops followed in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Norfolk, Reading, Rockford, San Antonio and Worcester. Kearns played five games for the Panthers in 2011-02 before the one this season for the Sharks.

What's kept him going?

"I feel like I've gotten better every year," Kearns said. "That was the big thing. And I've been given new opportunities. New teams have taken chances on me. July 1 rolls around and you're never sure if you're going to be able to stay and play. I've been pretty lucky around that time. I've gotten calls from teams, and they're pretty easy decisions. Europe's not really an option for me. It doesn't really appeal to me right now. My dream is to play in the NHL, and that's where I'd like to be."

Kearns has yet to record a point in the playoffs -- or in an NHL game. But it is a small samples size, and the Sharks aren't asking him to be an offensive force.

"I try to adapt to my situation," Kearns said. "I'm fourth line up here, so I have to be smart. Get pucks out, get pucks in, get some hits. In the back of my mind I feel like I can be a difference-maker if given the opportunity. That's what I want to focus on. It's good enough in a sense to go out and play like a fourth-liner, but it's obviously even better if you can chip in here or there with a goal or an assist."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he didn't know much about Kearns until after San Jose signed him.

"Anytime you sign a player, you do some research," McLellan said. "The quality of the person stands out more than anything, his perseverance and commitment to work his way through. He did play five games last year for Florida, and one of them happened to be in our building, and there was some talk after the game, 'Who was that guy?' He had an impact on the game. He then spent … the lockout year in Worcester and was the leading scorer and a very important piece of that team. I believe he benefitted from the lockout. We got to know him more as an individual and felt comfortable and trusted him in our situation here."

Sharks defenseman Jason Demers called Kearns' long journey to the playoffs an "awesome" story of perseverance.

"It shows you you're never out of it," Demers said. "There's always a chance if you pay your dues and you work hard. Obviously, some guys get it earlier than others. He's well-deserving of that and he's done a great job with us so far this year. He's a real professional in and around the rink. It shows. All the guys in Worcester love him, too. It's fun to see stories like that. It couldn't have happened to a better guy, that's for sure."

Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Correspondent

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WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 51 24 7 228 221 109
2 y - STL 82 51 24 7 239 197 109
3 x - NSH 82 47 25 10 226 202 104
4 x - CHI 82 48 28 6 220 186 102
5 x - VAN 82 48 29 5 236 220 101
6 x - MIN 82 46 28 8 227 198 100
7 x - WPG 82 43 26 13 223 204 99
8 x - CGY 82 45 30 7 237 213 97
9 LAK 82 40 27 15 218 197 95
10 DAL 82 41 31 10 257 257 92
11 COL 82 39 31 12 209 223 90
12 SJS 82 40 33 9 224 226 89
13 EDM 82 24 44 14 193 276 62
14 ARI 82 24 50 8 165 267 56

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2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 82 37 33 12 70
L. Couture 82 27 40 -6 67
J. Thornton 78 16 49 -4 65
B. Burns 82 17 43 -9 60
P. Marleau 82 19 38 -17 57
T. Wingels 75 15 21 -7 36
T. Hertl 82 13 18 -5 31
M. Nieto 72 10 17 -12 27
M. Karlsson 53 13 11 -3 24
M. Vlasic 70 9 14 12 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 31 23 7 .914 2.59
A. Stalock 8 9 2 .902 2.62
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