Tim Kennedy makes South Buffalo community proud
South Buffalo - If anybody knows the South Buffalo community it is a tight-nit group.
Everybody knows everybody in South Buffalo and if one of your own makes it big – everybody makes it.
Tim Kennedy is a South Buffalo boy who has made it big. He plays hockey for the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League and had a stint with his hometown Buffalo Sabres.
While many of us just see the glory of playing hockey for a living, there is a lot of hard work and a ton of ups and downs.
Early success can sometimes turn into disappointment and then back into success. It is a rollercoaster ride that can get very bumpy from time to time.
Kennedy has seen the ups and down personally. From being drafted by the Washington Capitals and then traded to Buffalo Sabres; to having the Sabres walk away from a contract last summer – which left him pondering his future.
There was a time, before contracts and the business of the game, that a kid was, well, just a kid.
When playing hockey on a makeshift rink was all that mattered. When playing was fun, before expectations got in the way.
Was it destined that Timmy Kennedy would become a NHL player?
You never know, but his dad had a passion for the game and he wanted to pass that onto his boys.
So, at age 2, Timmy put the skates on for the first time.
“My father got me started in hockey. He had a love for the game and he passed it on to me,” said Kennedy. “Diggs started my skating at age 2 over at Cazenovia Ice Rink during the afternoons when nobody else was there.”
Kennedy became good, but his parents made sure he was a well-rounded child growing up.
It wouldn’t be hockey 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Instead, Kennedy played other sports – which was good, as it didn’t get him burned out on hockey.
“Growing up I played a lot of different sports. I played basketball, football, baseball and golfed during the summer,” he said. “I loved playing all of those sports, except for football because of all the running. I especially like playing basketball and baseball, because it allowed me to play sports with my friends from grammar school.”
It was apparent, however, hockey would be the sport he would be the best at.
“Once I got to high school it was time to choose and hockey was the sport I enjoyed playing the most and the one I thought I excelled at.”
When you look back at those teams at Timon there definitely was some talent.
By high school, everybody knew who Kennedy was. He was playing for his travel team and people in the area could tell he had the talent to someday make it somewhere.
If not the NHL, then surely he would make it with a big time college program.
“Timmy is a winner. The bigger the game the better he played. He is an excellent skater with good hands, great vision, outstanding hockey sense and plays with an edge,” stated Chris Panek. “You could see at an early age he had the potential to be a professional hockey player. He continued to improve through junior hockey in Sioux City and really started to show that he could be an NHL player while playing at Michigan State.”
As he was progressing, talk around the area started to heat up.
Instead of putting pressure on himself, however, Kennedy just went with the flow.
“I never felt the pressure to succeed in hockey,” stated Kennedy. “But, I was a very sore loser and never wanted to lose or accept that anyone was better than I was – whether they were older or younger. So, the mindset, I always had was that I wanted to be the best.”
Being the best is something Kennedy always strived for whether it was with his travel team or at Timon.
Travel hockey is where Kennedy would get noticed the most, because they normally play full seasons, but it also was where he had a budding rivalry with current Buffalo Sabres forward Pat Kaleta.
Kaleta, an Angola native, is the same age as Kennedy and they played on two different travel teams.
“Growing up playing hockey around Buffalo was really competitive,” said Kennedy. “I would definitely say me and Pat Kaleta had a rivalry on the ice, because we were the same age and he refused to join our team growing up. So, even through we beat his team every time, it was always fun to play against him - because you knew he was coming for you and vice versa.”
Another friendly rivalry that started to grow was the one with Chicago Blackhawks forward, and South Buffalo resident, Patrick Kane.
Only, this rivalry never made it to the ice. See Kennedy and Kane are two years apart – so they never played against each other on the ice – but they did compete.
“With Patrick there was never a rivalry growing up because he was two years younger than me,” explained Kennedy. “However, roller hockey games in South Buffalo were very competitive. That’s when we first met – playing roller hockey in South Buffalo. And, all of those games were very intense, because no one likes to lose in South Buffalo at anything. I am still friends with both of them today and it’s still fun when you watch those two play or are playing against them because it shows how small a world it is.”
It was these kinds of friendships, however, that made his experience at Timon that much better.
While travel hockey was the elite of the elite, Timon offered Kennedy something he didn’t get to be that often – a teenager.
For a couple of months out of the year, Kennedy was able to be just one of the guys.
“My time playing hockey at Timon was so much fun and an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. It gave me a chance to be a normal teenage kid,” explained Kennedy. “With the travel team I was on, most teams played a full schedule and were gone every weekend on the road. Where, for those two to three months, I was practicing and hanging out with friends who I had a tough time seeing when I was playing with my travel team.”
He also credits former Timon coach Chris Panek for making his time at the school enjoyable. It also helped that his sophomore year the team went 29-1 and defeated St. Joe’s for the Federation title.
“Chris Panek was a main reason why playing at Timon was beneficiary,” he said. “He played professional hockey and ran our Timon team like we were a travel team. He played a lot of systems. He definitely ran a good team and program when he was the coach.”
However, Kennedy knew if he wanted to play college, and maybe professionally, he would have to make the jump to a junior program.
Tim Kennedy was BMOC (Big Man On Campus) while living in South Buffalo. Everybody knew how good he was and everybody talked about how good he was going to be.
When he went away to the United States Hockey League it was a different story. He had to earn all that playing time again. He had to prove he belonged. He had to prove to the college and NHL scouts that he was somebody they would like to take a look at.
Add in the fact he was 17 years old living away from his family in a strange city and not knowing anyone.
“It’s very tough to be away from family and friends, mainly because you miss all those social events and fun that most kids take for granted growing up,” said Kennedy. “It was tough to leave during my senior year of high school, but it was something I knew I had to do.”
He went on to say the transition to Sioux City was made easier because of the host family he lived with.
“I was blessed with an amazing host family, who made the transition very easy,” he explained. “Also, it is nice because I was on a hockey team, so I automatically had 20 other friends who were in the same situation that I was in, which made the move easy. Plus, I was constantly in contact with my tight group of friends from South Buffalo, so when I came home it felt like I had never even left.”
Kennedy excelled in the USHL and was recruited to play at Michigan State. It was there he would be reunited with some old friends once again.
When he got to Michigan State, Kennedy was reunited with Chris Mueller – someone he played hockey with since the age of 6.
Mueller went to the Nichols School in North Buffalo before becoming a Spartan. A few years later, Kennedy would be reunited with Mike Ratchuck.
“Playing with Mikey and Chis at school was so great. I played with Chris since I was 6 years old and Mikey grew up a street away from me on Hollywood,” he said. “It’s not too often you play with two quality guy like that and that just made my time there that much easier, because you always have that crutch to lean on.”
While he left college early to pursue an NHL career, Kennedy will always have fond memories of his experiences.
“My time at Michigan State was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “We won a national championships, which was the reason why I went there. While, off the ice, I made a bunch of new friends that I will have for the rest of my life. When I went to MSU I was still a teenager, who was just playing hockey. However, when I left, I was an adult, who was ready to become a professional and succeed in life. I cannot thank the coach’s and staff at MSU enough for preparing me for the real world.”
Kennedy would need those life lessons he learned in college pretty quickly, because, as we all know, the real world can be a bumpy ride.
And Kennedy would find out the hard way.
The Business Side
At some point, playing for fun becomes a business. It may be realized a little later in life or you may know right away. Either way the tag ‘playing for fun’ no longer exists in professional sports.
Athletes may say they care where they play – and some do mean it – but the majority will go wherever the money is.
It is a harsh reality that young 20-somethings have to figure out on their own.
For Kennedy reality kicked in while he was still at Michigan State.
The National Hockey League had been in the midst of their lockout – so nobody knew if there was going to be a draft or not.
At the last second, the NHL threw a draft together and that’s where the business side comes in.
Kennedy averaged a point per game his last two seasons at Michigan State, but yet wasn’t take by the Washington Capitals until the sixth round of the National Hockey League Entry Draft.
And, even before he could blink, Kennedy was traded to his hometown Buffalo Sabres.
“The draft process was stress free,” stated Kennedy. “My reaction when the Sabres traded for me was at first I thought it was a joke and than I was ecstatic when I heard it was true and I got a phone call from Darcy (Regier) and Lindy (Ruff) as they were driving home from the draft.”
Kennedy signed with the Sabres and played for Portland of the AHL during the 2008-09 season. He had a breakout year with 67 points (18 goals, 49 assists) in 73 games. That earned him his first call up to the big club – a one game stint.
It was the 2009-10 season where Kennedy finally realized his dream of making the NHL as he made the Sabres out of training camp.
For a rookie year, Kennedy wasn’t bad. He had 10 goals and 16 assists in 78 games and people thought he would be a regular in the Sabres lineup for years to come.
But, a so-so playoff series had people questioning if he was big enough to play in the league.
Also, it was an arbitration year – and everybody knows how the Sabres can be frugal with money.
The summer of 2010 sure was an interesting one for Kennedy. First he was called to play for Team USA at the IIHF World Championships. That same summer he got engaged to his wife and then went to arbitration.
“The summer was an interesting one,” he said. I went to the World Championships and played for Team USA. Got engaged to my wife, went to arbitration and then was bought out by the Sabres.”
Having your hometown team buying you out and discarding you is not an easy pill to swallow. Especially, knowing the Sabres were going to take a huge public relations hit.
But, that’s why the Sabres are the Sabres and they felt they had better players in their system.
At least that’s what the community thinks.
“It was a very difficult process to go though just because it happened in my hometown,” explained Kennedy. “It’s tough because I have a lot of questions with no answers. However, it is a process that I will be better off going through while I am still young and learning that it is truly a business. That entire mess taught me that when it comes to the business side of hockey there are no feelings involved.”
Added Panek: “I feel the people involved in the decision to buy out Timmy’s contract made it personal, it had nothing to do with business. It was classless.”
A New Beginning
A lot has happened since that summer. Kennedy was signed by the New York Rangers and played for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL before being traded to the Florida Panthers.
While he didn’t get into an NHL game last year, Kennedy resigned with the Panthers this past summer and has appeared in 26 games registering two points.
“I really like Florida. I mean you can’t beat the weather. Waking up every day throwing on shorts and flip flops and going to practice instead of jeans, boots and a winter jacket, trudging through the snow and scraping off the ice, isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “The coaching staff and team down here have this organization headed in the right direction and I am very happy to be apart of it so far.”
Also, Kennedy was married to Janelle Staszak this past summer.
“Married life has been great so far. I have an amazing wife who does so many things for me I cannot even begin with,” he said. “She definitely makes the ups and downs of a hockey season bearable, because she is always there for me. I am very lucky that she decided to put up with me forever.”
While, his marriage is still new, he says it hasn’t changed him one bit.
“Married life hasn’t changed me at all. It has just put more things into perspective for me,” he said. “Before this past year life was all hockey and that was it. Now we have a house, mortgage, car payments, insurance, etc etc. It has allowed me to grow and evolve more as an adult.”