LAKE PLACID - Two talented athletes from a family that loves sports are currently enjoying successful seasons, and they've both passed through Lake Placid during the past month. One came here to compete, the other stopped in town for a team practice before playing two games over the weekend in the North Country.
Hannah and Denny Kearney are the only two children of parents Tom and Jill, and growing up in Vermont offered the siblings loads of chances to become involved in winter sports. Hannah set her sights on freestyle skiing, a path that has taken the 26-year-old to the top step of the Olympic podium after winning the women's moguls gold medal in Vancouver a year ago.
Her younger brother Denny turned to the game of hockey, and is one of the top scorers for the Yale University Bulldogs, who are currently the second-ranked NCAA Division I team in the country. Like her trip to the Vancouver Olympics, Hannah's most recent appearance in the Adirondacks was golden after she won back-to-back moguls titles on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 when the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup tour visited Whiteface Mountain.
Yale senior forward Denny Kearney is the brother of Olympic moguls gold medalist Hannah Kearney.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Denny was in town Thursday with his Yale teammates. They were at the the Olympic Center getting in one more practice session before taking on Eastern College Athletic Association opponents Saint Lawrence and Clarkson in games tonight and Saturday.
This is Kearney's final season playing for Yale, and the senior is the fourth-highest scorer on the nation's highest-scoring team. Along with his teammates, Kearney would love to make history by capturing the school's first men's ice hockey national title. They head into this weekend's matchups with a 19-4 overall record, including a 14-0 mark on home ice at Ingalls Rink.
"That's been our goal from day one: winning the national championship," Kearney said. "When I first started with Yale, the program was up and coming with a lot of new, young players. Over the last couple of years, we've had a lot of success. We have a lot of upperclassmen with a lot of experience, we've had great goaltending, which has been a big key for us this year, and we've really come together as a team.
"We don't have a lot of games left before the playoffs, so I think consistency is the most important thing for us the rest of the way," Kearney added. "You can't have a loss in the national tournament. It's one and you're done. We've had a great year, so hopefully we can keep it going down the stretch and into the playoffs."
Since his freshman year, Kearney has played in every game during his career at Yale. In 23 games this season, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward has 11 goals and 16 assists. In 125 games played as a Bulldog, he has amassed 40 goals and 77 assists for 117 points.
"Hockey has been at Yale for over 100 years. There's a lot of history there," Kearney said. "Wearing that Yale jersey is pretty special. The support we get at our rink is incredible. We haven't lost there this season, and we only have a few home games left. It's kind of sad, so I'm going relish every one of those moments."
Kearney said he played many sports when he was young, but ice hockey stood out from the start.
"Hockey was one of the first sports I played, and immediately fell in love with it," he said. "I always skied, played soccer and baseball, but hockey was my favorite, right from the first time I stepped on the ice. I didn't know where I was going with the game when I was younger, but when I realized I could play this game, it's been a dream for me to play in the ECAC and the Ivy League. As I got older, I was able to realize that dream."
Kearney said being raised by athletic parents gave him and his sister the push they needed to excel in hockey and skiing.
"Both my parents were really athletic," Denny said. "My dad played college football in Pennsylvania at East Stroudsburg State, and my mom's always been big in sports. Even now, she still runs marathons.
"My parents always encouraged us to play sports. They always went the extra mile," he continued. "Growing up in southern Vermont, there wasn't a big mountain within an hour of us, so mom was always driving Hannah to ski, and my dad would drive me to my hockey games in Boston. They've been really committed to our passions, and we're so thankful for the support they've given us."
Even though Denny and Hannah are often apart, they make a close-knit brother-and-sister combination.
"We love hanging out together. Hannah is one of my best friends in the world," Denny said. "During the past few summers, she's usually been somewhere else training. When we get the chance to hang out, we like watching Red Sox games together, and we like to play tennis and other sports."
Denny's major at Yale is political science, but like many other athletes who excel in sports, he wants to play hockey as long as he can. This season, he is among the 70 or so candidates for the Hobey Baker award given to the most outstanding NCAA Division I men's ice hockey player.
"I want to play professional hockey somewhere at some level for as long as I can," he said. "I know I can't play forever. Maybe I can coach someday, and my dad is a carpenter, and that's a nice skill to have. At this point, I'm just trying to enjoy my senior season and take it from there."
Yale plays tonight in Canton against Saint Lawrence University at Appleton Arena, and heads to Potsdam Saturday to play at Clarkson University's Cheel Arena. The opening faceoffs for both games are scheduled for 7 p.m.
"In all my four years at Yale, we've stopped to practice in Lake Placid before these road games," Kearney said. "We have a fun time. It's a nice way to break up the trip."