Grant Jennings won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990s.On Saturday at the Baranof Park Ice Rink, the retired 6-foot-3 NHL enforcer found himself in a fierce game of duck, duck, goose with future hockey stars that barely reached his knees.
He high-fived each of them like he did with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr back in the day.
“With the young kids, you got to keep it fun for them,” Jennings said. “It is fun to work with them, to see what makes them tick, because we were all that age at one point.”
Jennings and 13 of his former NHL buddies were on The Rock this past weekend to take part in the second Kodiak Alumni Youth Hockey Camp and Kodiak Cup Adult Tournament. Nearly 90 campers ranging in age from elementary to high school soaked up all they could from the professionals during the three-day event that was created last year by Kodiak surgeon Russell DeGroote.
Five NHL stars headlined the inaugural event; this year’s showcase nearly tripled in size.
“I just put the word out and it got a whole bunch of bites. They are like fish,” said DeGroote, who has rich NHL ties from his hockey days in Calgary.
Jennings had the shortest commute of all NHLers in attendance as he lives in Anchorage. He moved to Alaska in 2002, and is an aircraft engineer with ConocoPhillips.
With over a decade spent in the Last Frontier, this was Jennings’ first trip to Kodiak.
“Kodiak was on my bucket list, I just never made it out here,” he said.
Jennings, who spent eight seasons in the NHL and appeared in 389 games with Hartford, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Buffalo, brought his two championship rings with him to show the kids. He won the cup in 1991 and 1992 with the Penguins, a team that he spent five seasons with and scored half of his career 14 goals for. Jennings was traded to Pittsburgh with Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson in what many experts deemed one of the most famous trades in NHL history.
“Pittsburgh had all the offense they needed, but they didn’t have defense. As soon as we got there that all changed … we just took off from there,” Jennings said.
Undrafted, Jennings said he was never the best player on any of his youth teams. He fought through three years in the minor leagues before making his NHL debut. His message to Kodiak’s youth was never give up.
Jim “Soup” Campbell was one of the original five who returned to this year’s camp. He had so much fun last year — with a hockey stick and with a fishing pole — that he had to return.
“The game of hockey gave me a lot — it is the least that I can do,” Campbell said. “This sport is awesome, and I want these kids to come out and love it as much as I did.”
Campbell’s enthusiasm was displayed during drills as he encouraged each kid that skated by.
Campbell netted 61 goals during his 285 games with Montreal, St. Louis, Chicago, Florida and Tampa Bay. He played in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway as a member of Team USA, A year later he appeared in the final game at the Boston Garden as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
“It was a dream come true,” Campbell said of his career. “I was lucky to play.”
Campbell and Jennings were joined in Kodiak by Terry Yake, Larry Patey, Dennis Polonich, Brent Krahn, Deron Quint, Al Pedersen, John Wensink, Doug Patey, Brian Carlin, Steve Kelly, Ed Staniowski, Tony Stiles and Pat Elynuik.
Campbell is already looking forward to returning next year to help Kodiak youths.
“They are tough kids. They are out there battling for the pucks … they are competitive,” he said. “It has been fun to coach them.”