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Monday, May 13, 2013

Redemption Thy Name is Tyler Kennedy by @chrisrbarron

My rec league hockey number is 48.  When a teammate asked me why I wore 48, I told them that my favorite player's number is 48.  When they asked who that was, I told them, "Tyler Kennedy."  My teammates response was, "who?"

Being the self-appointed President of the Tyler Kennedy fan club has been a lonely place during much of the Pens regular season.  TK, as I have written before, deserved some of the criticism but at some point the TK hate was no longer really moored to reality.  TK got the blame for any and everything bad that happened to the Penguins.

At the beginning of the Islanders series very few Pens fans wanted to see Tyler Kennedy on ice - despite TK's previous playoff experience and success.  Even though Bylsma had stuck by Kennedy all year, TK was a healthy scratch for the first 4 games of this past series.

Of course, a lot can change in just four games.  By the time game 5 rolled around, the Pens were knotted up with the Islanders 2 games to 2 and - with the exception of game 1 - had been outskated and outplayed in virtually every part of the game.  Sensing the need to shake up his team, Dan Bylsma shook up his lineup for game 5 - and part of that shakeup was putting Tyler Kennedy back into the lineup.

I can't imagine how deflating it must have been for TK to have been a healthy scratch for those first four games.  Getting hounded by fans and on sports radio and the social media is one thing, getting benched by your coach in the playoffs is another.  TK never complained, however, just like he never complained about constantly being bounced from line to line during the regular season.

As a TK fan, I hoped that he would come out in game 5 and play with passion and intensity.  From puck drop it was clear that was exactly what he was going to do.  And when he took that beautiful stretch pass from Letang and put it in the net in the 2nd period, suddenly TK had gone from goat to hero.

In professional sports we are too often treated to stories of players acting like prima donnas, we are to frequently witness to the ego and narcissism of pro athletes.  We hear about contract disputes, demands for more money, and the like.  It is all too rare that we get a story of redemption. 

For that first series against the Islanders, however, we got a story of redemption and redemption's name was Tyler Kennedy. 

I have no idea whether TK will continue to play as well as he did in games 5 and 6.  And I have no idea whether TK will be a Penguin beyond this season.  But I do know this much:  he has earned the right to play and earned respect - at least for now - from Pens fans.

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