Saving his memory

Mike Kenna’s team­mates and fam­ily pose with the ban­ner that will dis­play his name. ABI RE­IMOLD / FOR THE TIMES

— 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.” ••

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