— Mike Kenna was a hockey goalie before he suffered a fatal heart attack. He will not soon be forgotten.
Mike Kenna was a lot of things.
First and foremost, he was a loving husband to wife Daina and a dedicated father to sons Kevin and Sean and daughter Eryn. When he wasn’t at home caring for his family, Mike Kenna was a hockey goalie and diehard Flyers fan. Everybody that had the pleasure of knowing him knew that hockey ran through his blood, something he proudly passed onto his boys.
Now, three months after Kenna’s untimely death, the Northeast Racquet Club (NERC) of Bustleton has made sure he will always be remembered as both a tremendous goalie and a good man.
Kenna suffered a fatal heart attack on July 1 while practicing with his hockey teammates, which included his two sons, in their roller hockey league at the NERC. He was just 51 years old.
In the spring, Kenna had won the league’s Vezina Trophy, awarded to the top goalie. On Sept. 30, members of the NERC administration held a ceremony in Kenna’s honor in which the Vezina Trophy was renamed The Michael Kenna Award. Additionally, a banner displaying Kenna’s name and past winners of the award was raised to the rafters of the facility.
He may be gone, but his teammates, opponents and members of the community who came out to pay respects to a fallen friend will not soon forget Kenna.
“Mike was the type of guy we want to attract to be a part of our club,” said Charlie Sgrillo, the NERC athletic director who emceed the ceremony. “We wanted to show the family that we won’t forget who he was and what he stood for. We wanted them to know that Mike didn’t just die here; we want to remember him and remind other people about who he was and why the award was named after him. Not only is he hanging on our banner now, but it also puts things in perspective to cherish the moments you do have.”
Kenna’s wife, children, sister and brother-in-law were on hand for the event, and the NERC raised the banner displaying his name while Kate Smith’s version of God Bless America reverberated throughout the arena. (The same rendition is played before every Flyers home game at the Wells Fargo Center to pump up the crowd.)
Stickers were passed out to members of the league to paste onto their helmets, and they also lined up to shake the hands of members of the Kenna clan.
“It meant a lot to us,” said Sean Kenna, Mike’s 24-year-old son. “They didn’t have to do that, but they went out of their way to do it anyway. I thought it was special. I was surprised they named the award after him, and it’s kind of moved me to try to be a better man, like my dad was.”
Sean Kenna also spoke of the players in the league whom he had never met, but who still stopped by to shake the hand of every member of the family out of respect.
“That meant a lot to me,” he said. “Half those guys I didn’t even know, and they still came by to pass along their condolences. It was very cool, especially considering a lot of them came from other teams.”
Gary Chnoll, the general manager of the facility that houses both the racquet club and fitness center, was one of the first on the scene to attempt to revive Mike Kenna’s heart the day he passed away. Chnoll and his fitness director worked on Kenna until the EMTs arrived, but attempts to save him were unsuccessful. Chnoll didn’t know Kenna personally, but he wasn’t surprised at the decision and subsequent response to re-name the trophy in his honor.
“We like to be known as a comfortable neighborhood club that attracts members of the community who want to mix competition with being social,” Chnoll said. “These are the kind of guys we like to bring in. Even though I didn’t know him, to me this kind of thing should come naturally, remembering your own.”
Both Sgrillo and Sean Kenna described the league as one that successfully blended players of all ages and skill sets. Competition within the rink was fierce, but opponents were always respectful of one another. When the games ended, Kenna’s team would stick around and support other teams, and vice versa. When all was said and done, guys would break off and go out for a couple of beers together.
“If you knocked someone down, you make sure they’re OK before getting back to the game,” said Sean Kenna, who still plays in the Sunday-only league with his brother, Kevin. “Everyone got along with each other, and we were all cool with each other to the point where we’d go out for a beer and keep bonding.”
Added Sgrillo: “Guys play hard, but they’re there to exercise and have fun. We want to bring guys together through sportsmanship, guys that understand it’s just a game, and that when a game is over, it’s over.”
The league, which features 10 to 12 teams and plays year-round every Sunday, will always carry on the spirit of Mike Kenna for as long as it remains in existence. And though it was difficult the first few times following their father’s passing, Sean and Kevin Kenna continue to play on.
They know Mike would have wanted it that way.
“The first couple times out there, it was hard for us,” Sean said. “But I told my brother that we had to keep going, because it’s what our dad would have wanted. We’ll never forget that every Saturday while we were growing up, we’d get up and go play hockey together for three or four hours. It helps us in the healing process, being able to go out there and keep playing hard for him.”
And while Sgrillo didn’t know Mike Kenna too well off the rink, his interactions with the fallen goaltender within the NERC confines made the decision to commemorate Mike a no-brainer.
“The goaltender is the backbone of any hockey team,” said Sgrillo, who has played and coached hockey all over the world.
“He enjoyed playing with his sons and friends, and he was just a good guy. I knew we did a good job with the ceremony when I saw the emotion in the eyes of the hockey players, guys that aren’t easy to rattle. It went very well, and we’re proud to honor the type of guy we look for to represent the league and our club the right way.” ••