I saw a tweet from the Florida Panthers that Bracken Kearns will be making his NHL debut tonight and I cannot tell a lie. I said, who the heck is Bracken Kearns?
My first thought was, I wonder if he's any relation to Dennis Kearns. And, as fate, would have it, yes, indeed he is the son of the former NHL defenceman who played 10 seasons and more than 600 regular-season games with the Vancouver Canucks in the 1970s.
But, get, this, Bracken Kearns is making his NHL debut tonight and he's 30 years old.
"It's a really nice story," Panthers' assistant GM Mike Santos said. "He's one of those guys who has just worked so hard for everything."
Today, Kearns is flying into south Florida. And tonight, he'll be in the lineup against the Buffalo Sabres.
Kearns played Canadian university hockey at the University of Calgary from 2001 to 2005.
He started his pro hockey odyssey with Toledo in the East Coast Hockey League and was "discovered" there by the Nashville Predators, who signed him to play with Milwaukee of the AHL in his second pro season. Santos was in the Nashville organization at the time and said Kearns isn't the first or last guy to be noticed in the Coast.
"Jerred Smithson, Rich Peverley, there are a lot of guys we saw in the Coast and they worked their way up," Santos said.
Kearns made AHL stops along the way, two years in Norfolk, one each in Rockford and San Antonio, where he scored 20 goals last season. This past summer, Florida GM Dale Tallon signed Kearns to a two-way NHL-AHL contract. Tallon and Dennis Kearns were teammates back in the early days of the Canucks.
Bracken Kearns had three goals in his first three AHL games with the Rampage this season. So when Shawn Matthias went down with an injury, the call went out to to the 30-year-old forward this morning.
"It's funny," Panthers' GM Tallon said, "I got a phone call from Dennis (Kearns) wishing me well on my birthday yesterday and I told him Bracken had a good camp and he would get an opportunity at some time down the road. I didn't realize it would be today."
So as NHL amateur scouts look at the 1994 birth years for this year's NHL draft, the "kid" born in 1981 will skate out tonight for his first NHL game.
And how cool is that?