With four games left in the regular season, the No. 13 Ohio State hockey team is in its strongest position in years to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, which would be its first trip since 2009.
The Scarlet and Gray offense has been something to behold, with sophomore forward Mason Jobst and senior forward Nick Schilkey leading the third-ranked offense in the nation with 42 points and 24 goals, respectively.
Nestled in the incredible depth of the Buckeye offense, however, is of one of the best personalities the squad has to offer: sophomore forward Brendon Kearney.
The first hockey player in his family, Kearney first started skating at the age of 2 at Ingalls Rink in New Haven, Connecticut — better known as “The Whale” — home of the Yale Bulldogs.
His parents, Doug and Julie, hailing from Michigan, decided to move to the Detroit area, where Kearney’s love for the game grew through watching the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Before I really knew what hockey was, I would sit in front of the TV and watch,” Kearney said. “We had season tickets, so we would always go down to (Joe Louis Arena) and watch the great teams and I fell in love with the game through experience.”
Watching sellout crowds at Yost Ice Arena at the University of Michigan had a strong influence on his desire to play hockey as well.
In terms of his on-ice development, he just so happened to be among some of the best AAA players in the United States.
Playing for the nationally recognized Detroit HoneyBaked program, Kearney joined a program that bred Division I and NHL players, such as former Michigan Wolverine and current Chicago Blackhawks prospect Tyler Motte.
Skating in that environment can be a burden and a blessing at times, Kearney said.
“It’s great because you get exposed to competitive hockey a lot earlier,” he said. “It really pushes you to put in the extra work. Everyone is good and has a commitment to the game. The bad is that you can get distracted away from yourself a little bit. If you focus on what other people are doing and where they are going, you stop focusing on yourself and that’s where you run into trouble.”
After a brief, six-game stint with the U.S. National Team Development Program at the tail end of his HoneyBaked career, it was then that Kearney realized he could hold his own with the best in the nation.
He later carved out a solid career in the United States Hockey League, the top junior hockey league in the U.S., with the Chicago Steel, drawing the attention of OSU and coach Steve Rohlik.
“First and foremost, he wanted to be here,” Rohlik said. “At the end of the day, you want guys that want to come here and make a difference in the program. He’s a great teammate, he’s got great character and he’ll do whatever it takes for the team. You live and die with those kind of guys.”
Drawn to hockey in part by the Maize and Blue, Kearney bled scarlet and gray from the second he stepped foot in Columbus on his visit.
“The visit took care of itself,” Kearney said. “From the second the plane landed, to walking around campus, to checking out the rink, the facility and the coaching staff. Everything just seemed to click.”
Although several schools showed interest in him and his parents wanted him to take his time with his decision, Kearney had no doubt in his mind that he was going to be a Buckeye.
His freshman season, however, was not exactly smooth.
The 2015-16 Buckeye hockey team was very young, and with a loaded non-conference schedule facing them, they didn’t exactly get off to the greatest start.
In fact, they were 0-7 to begin the year and entered the winter break 3-11.
The second half proved to be a 180-degree turn, as OSU and Kearney found their grooves, and he was also able to play at Yost for the first time as a Buckeye.
“I had been to places like Yost and had seen what a college atmosphere is like,” Kearney said. “That was one of the main reasons I wanted to play college hockey. Going there and being on the other side of it, it was incredible. It’s fun and it was better being a Buckeye. It’s cool to go in there and be the ones who are getting cheered for, but if you can go in there and shut all 6,000 of them up and come out with a win, it makes it even more special.”
A strong run to the finish last year translated to a hot start this season, as a now deep and talented OSU team went unbeaten in its first seven games. While he was finding an identity on the ice just before the winter break, Kearney found a strong presence in front of a camera as well.
In the team’s last media session before winter break, OSU freshman standout Tanner Laczynski was set to discuss his opportunity to play in the World Junior Championship, which was later won by Laczynski and his U.S. teammates over Canada in Montreal.
Kearney calmly decided to stroll over to OSU’s Director of Athletics Communications Leann Parker, snag the microphone from her, and take the interviewing process into his own hands.
From that moment on, Kearney’s Corner became a regular addition to the OSU hockey Twitter feed (@OhioState_MHKY).
“We messed around, it wasn’t a serious thing at the time,” Kearney said. “I didn’t even know we were recording for a little while. Next thing you know, they ended up putting a video out. The fans that we have, being as great as they are, they loved it and kept wanting more.”
Not one to normally seek the spotlight, Kearney enjoys the attention Kearney’s Corner brought to his team.
“I like being able to get up there and hopefully make people laugh and see a different side of us that you don’t get to see under all of the equipment.” Kearney said.
Kearney is more than active in the community too, recently taking part in the Second and Seven Foundation, which was started by former OSU football players Luke Fickell, Ryan Miller and Mike Vrabel in an effort to promote literacy for local second-graders and for the student athletes at OSU to pay it forward by being positive role models.
Kearney was one of several Buckeye athletes to hop into the classroom to read, as many of the kids don’t even own books.
“Buckeyes are their heroes,” Janet Kassoff said, Second and Seven Foundation coordinator for central Ohio. “The fact that their heroes are coming into the classroom and telling them, ‘Yes, you admire us because we’re athletes, but you have to be good students first.’ It’s amazing that there’s that switch kind of flips in the kids’ minds, that being a Buckeye isn’t always about being an athlete, it’s about being a student.”
A lot of those second-graders do not have a positive role model in their lives, something Kearney relishes.
“He’s one of the first guys to volunteer every time we have something.” Rohlik said.
Depth player, outgoing personality and role model, Kearney delivers his pride in representing OSU on and off the ice, in front of and away from the camera, each and every day.
“It means the world,” Kearney said. “I’m lost for words about it, and I’ve been here for over a year and a half now. I’m incredibly happy to be here.”
Coming off of a weekend split against Michigan, the Buckeyes (17-9-6, 8-7-1-1 Big Ten) continue their pursuit of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid as they take on Michigan State (6-21-3, 2-12-2 Big Ten) at the Schottenstein Center for senior weekend. Friday night’s puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. while Saturday is an 8 p.m. start.