Courtesy of Pam Shebest
KALAMAZOO, MI—If there are any shenanigans on the ice Saturday night, they could be coming from the sticks of Kyle Blaney or Brendan Bradley.
Those two forwards, both first generation Irish, will lead the Kalamazoo Wings against the Cincinnati Cyclones on St. Patrick’s Day green ice at Wings Event Center.
Both of Blaney’s parents are from Northern Ireland while Bradley’s father was born in the Emerald Isle. All three parents grew up in Belfast, a surprise to both players when they learned that.
Although Blaney’s mom and dad were friends in Northern Ireland while growing up, they did not marry until a chance meeting in Canada, where his dad, Paul, emigrated 37 years ago — on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Their families were very intertwined,” Blaney said. “My dad’s brother married my mom’s sister. They also moved to Canada.
“My mom (Colette Smyth) was visiting on vacation and my dad was already in Canada. They hooked up and then they had three kids. My mom still has quite the accent. My dad’s very North Americanized. He’s a very good speaker.”
Blaney, a second-year pro, has visited relatives in Ireland “five or six times,” he said. “We lived there for about eight months when I was very, very small and I don’t remember.
My older brothers (Mark and Ryan) went to school there in 1993-94 but I was only 2.”
Blaney said he does not do anything special to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day except last year.
“I was fortunate enough to keep my St. Patrick’s Day jersey from last year,” he said. “I gave it to my dad, so he was pretty thrilled about that.
“Parents do a lot for their kids in hockey so any time, just the incentive of the Irish background, being able to do that was pretty special.”
This year’s jerseys will also be auctioned off after Saturday’s game.
Settling in Philly
Bradley’s father, Brendan Bradley Sr., came to the United States with his family when he was 8 years old in 1961.
Bradley has also visited relatives in Ireland.
“I had been there when I was 8 years old and the year before (going to University of) Vermont we went again,” he said.
“We traveled throughout the island and saw family and did some touristy stuff. I think the best part was seeing my cousins and seeing what they do on a daily basis, how their lives were different or the same as ours.”
The best trip was last year while Bradley was a senior captain on Vermont’s hockey team.
“We had a tournament in Belfast,” he said. “It was really cool to go over there, see some family and learn about the past and Belfast.
“My whole family actually came along, my dad, my mom (Donna), my sister (Lauren). We still have a lot of family over there in Dublin, Tyrone, places like that. They all came up for our Saturday game against Quinnipiac, so it was a nice time.”
Bradley found one thing in particular very interesting.
“If you say you play hockey, they would always think field hockey,” he said. “You’d have to say ice hockey. They have a professional team now in Belfast which is helping grow the sport there.
“I think Belfast, with its troubled past, is trying to use hockey as a non-denominational sport. All the soccer teams have affiliations with religions. I think they’re using hockey to bring peace and bring people together.”
Bradley said there are still some throwbacks to the 1990s.
“You go to school with Catholics or you go to school with Protestants,” he said. “There’s still walls up that are separating neighborhoods.
“I don’t think when people think of Ireland, that’s what they think about. It was really interesting in going over there and seeing that divide where you didn’t expect it to be.”
A surprise meeting
When Bradley showed up in the K-Wings training camp in October, he had no idea there was already an Irish connection with one of the second-year guys.
“I’ve never really met someone in hockey whose parents are from Ireland,” Bradley said. “It’s really cool to hear.”
Said Blaney: “That’s a nice little connection. We’ve had a similar upbringing, I’m sure. All those families are cut from the same cloth.”
Blaney played on green ice last year with the K-Wings, but it is a first for Bradley.
“We usually get a pregame skate and then it’s the same for both teams so even if you’re having a tough time adjusting to it you’re not allowed to say it out loud,” Blaney said. “The pink ice (Feb. 14) was tough; the green ice is not bad. It’s going to be fun.”
One thing he did not experience last season was “I have not personally had the green beer here,” he said, laughing.
Nick Bootland has had plenty of experience on the K-Wing green ice, both as a player and a coach.
“I like everything that goes with it,” he said. “I like the atmosphere of those games and how the crowd is and how fun it is to be out there on that ice enjoying that hectic, loud, robust St. Paddy’s Day crowd.
“We used to worry about (colored ice) but I feel all these guys are coming from places that have done it now.”
As a second-year player, “Kyle Blaney’s a guy that can win some faceoffs as of late back at center,” Bootland said. “He’s been a guy that’s a pass-first mentality type player for us all the time.”
Bradley came to camp on a tryout, “But he’s one of the better surprises for us all season long,” Bootland said. “You can see the leadership qualities he has being a captain at Vermont beforehand.
“He’s sort of a silent leader by his work ethic and how hard he continues to skate all the time no matter what’s going on.”
Blaney said he has more responsibility and high expectations this season.
“No matter how long you play, I feel there’s always going to be expectations on a player on how you perform whether you’re in your first year, second year, fifth year,” he said.
“I had the opportunity to come here. I’ve loved every place I’ve been, but probably Kalamazoo the most.”
Bradley said he hasn’t had much trouble going from a senior captain in college to a rookie as a pro. There’s just one big disadvantage.
“The only tough part is when we go on road trips, sleeping on the floor (of the bus) and not getting a bunk,” he said. “Other than that, it’s not too bad. The older guys have helped me, so kudos to them for helping all us rookies.”