Wearing a uniform that is an amalgam of his Penguins No. 48 helmet, New Jersey Devils gloves and a spiffy two-tone hooded sweatshirt with his TK logo on the chest, Tyler Kennedy is offering his best version of, “No, your other left foot.”
Kennedy, who won a Stanley Cup with the 2008-09 Penguins, on this recent evening has finished working with a large group of youth hockey players on the main rink at the Mt. Lebanon Rec Center and now is working with a trio of younger tikes on the complex’s smaller studio rink. With nearly every drill, Kennedy has to show and explain what to do more than once. He does it without a hint of frustration, and even with enthusiasm and a bit of humor.
That kind of patience might surprise Penguins fans who remember Kennedy’s signature rush down the right-wing side of the ice and heavy shot, but Kennedy has transformed himself since retiring as a player.
At 31 – just 31 – Kennedy is back in Pittsburgh and doing well for himself as a youth development coach. He travels among several area rinks working with young players.
Settling back in Western Pennsylvania with his wife, Brandi, and their daughter, Cookie, 2 ½, after playing in San Jose and with the New York Islanders and Devils following his Penguins career was a no-brainer for Kennedy.
“My wife is from the South Hills, and honestly, there’s such a following here. It’s just the right place for a second career,” he said. “Pittsburgh’s a great city for us.
“You have to leverage what you have. I don’t have that much of an education, so that’s why I’m doing the hockey. It’s what I know. People talk hockey, it’s like a doctor knowing the body. I know exactly what they’re talking about.”
His name recognition certainly seems to help. At the end of his training sessions, it’s common for the players to want to pose with him for photos – usually taken by parents who are more likely than the young boys and girls to remember him as a Penguins player and Cup champion.
Kennedy finds time to get to a lot of Penguins games, but much of the rest of his time is spent on his new business. He has seven employees, sort of like assistant coaches, who help him when he’s working with larger groups.
Brandi, who has a marketing degree, helps. She designed the cool TK logo and runs the website – tylerkennedytraining.com – but Kennedy is hands-on.
“I know how to score goals and reverse body check, but getting the ice and booking ahead, all that stuff, I’m doing most of it by myself,” he said. “You know what? If you want to make money, you have to work hard.”
I Know A Guy…
The rinks where he rents ice and holds training sessions – right now there are a lot of tune-up sessions for players preparing for offseason tryouts – usually have their own staff of coaches, power-skating instructors, etc., but Kennedy is convinced he can bring something different.
Not only is he a former NHL player with a Stanley Cup ring, but he also has a network of experts to draw on. Have you ever known someone who liked to brag, “I know a guy…?” Kennedy knows lots of them, people he worked with and trained with in the offseason over the years.
“I’ve got little pieces that I’ve learned from a lot of different guys around the world. I don’t think anyone around can say that,” he said. “I don’t think guys are going to Vancouver, Canada, to learn from a strictly goal-scoring coach, where I did, and now I’m trying to teach these kids. I think I’m a little different. I think I’m trying to think outside the box with some of the stuff I do.
“I’ve got guys all over different parts of the world that I call and talk about drills. I have a guy in New York, a guy in Vancouver, a guy in Minnesota. The stuff I give the kids here, it’s a hybrid of what all of them are doing.”
Kennedy has given a lot of thought to his approach beyond Xs and Os. He said he was struck by the enthusiasm of Dan Bylsma, who coached the Penguins’ 09 championship team.
“The kids read off your energy, kind of like the way the players read off the coach’s energy. As a player, it just made it that much more fun being out there shooting pucks with your buddies when you have a coach who is having fun.
“My clinics, I’m very upbeat, trying to help the kids get better but also have fun. Those kids are young. They need to have fun. When I act a little crazy, a little fun, I hope they leave the rink or come back with a smile on their face.”
The End, And A Beginning
Kennedy finished his career with 50 games for the Devils – and former Penguins general manager Ray Shero – in 2015-16. He spent a year figuring out what he wanted to do, including some work with the Penguins and some broadcasting, before he settled on the training route.
During that time, he came to grips with being retired as a player. It helped that he realized the physical toll his career demanded, including disc inflammation that limited him toward the end.
“My back is finally starting to feel good. I’m on the ice without my back hurting,” Kennedy said. “Literally, it took 15 months of not playing hockey to get my body to where I wasn’t hurting. Just the wear and tear. After practice, it would take me an hour just to make sure I was good for the day.
“It’s tough to take Tylenol, Aleve every day. That starts adding up. So I kind of knew it was my end.”
And now, the beginning.
“I’m still feeling my way. Really, I’m still newly retired,” Kennedy said. “I immersed myself in how to teach kids, how to deal with parents, how to be kind of a businessman. A lot of moving parts.
“It’s a very hard transition, but it’s a good one. I think I’m growing as a person, especially with the business part with the youth hockey skill development.”