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This JFK Ready to Make His Mark at RPI

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 2, 2007

TROY - Yes, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute freshman defenseman John F. Kennedy is named after the 35th President of the United States. Sort of, anyway.

His father was.

"I'm (JFK) junior," the Saginaw, Mich. native said. "My father was John F. Kennedy and he was named after the president. I get the JFK tag all the time. I'm cool with it." Kennedy jokes that he's been to Dallas and back.

Being RPI's first African-American player since fan favorite Graeme Townshend (1985-89) is no big deal to Kennedy.

His eyes lit up, though, when it was suggested that his tough, physical play will endear him to Engineers fans.

"I'll work hard for that," he said.

Kennedy doesn't dislike basketball and played football and baseball, but chose the one of the top four team sports in North America not heavily populated by African-Americans because he was bitten by the hockey bug at an early age - and was hooked.

"I saw a TV commercial for hockey and the local rink when I was four," he said, "and it went from there. I went to a public skate and I started playing. I loved hockey."

Kennedy says his dad took the family to an open skate and they stayed for one period or so of the youth hockey game that followed.

"That was it," he said. "I wanted to play right then."

He began playing just a few months later.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Kennedy, when asked to describe his style of play, said, "I guess you can call me a hard-nosed defenseman. I take pride in my defensive-zone play," he said. "From there, from defense, you get offense. And I'm not afraid of a little contact along the boards or to knock somebody off the puck."

On a 1-5 speedskating scale, Kennedy says he's "a 3 and a half or a 4."

Kennedy developed his ample skills early on and was good enough to make the travel league team in Detroit. That meant a 200-mile round trip for his parents and him each time his team played at home, even further for his parents if they considered a road game within drivable distance.

Kennedy played junior hockey for the past three years and, this past year, "won the national (junior) championship with the St. Louis Bandits (of the United States Hockey League). That was a great feeling."

New Rensselaer coach Seth Appert brought in four freshmen defensemen last season and, including transfer Mark Zarbo of Bentley (ineligible until next season), four more new blueliners this year.

The opportunity to play helped Kennedy reach his decision to choose Rensselaer from among a half-dozen schools seeking his services.

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "Obviously, you look for things like that but at the same time, the coaches were a (factor), too. Between Seth and his enthusiasm, he's a great guy and Curley (assistant coach Shawn Kurulak) ... his defensive knowledge is second to none. I factored all those things together and (the decision) was made, it just all came together."

Kennedy and fellow freshman Bryan Brutlag will be counted upon heavily to shore up the Engineers' defensive play, an objective that's crucial if RPI is to make a significant improvement on its 2006-07 records of 6-11-5 ECACH) and 10-18-6. Kennedy isn't worried by the high expectations.

"Not really," he said, "Obviously we're young and we have to go through the whole learning process. There's an adjustment in speed. You have to think faster so you can move faster, so as of now, we still have to look to our upperclassmen defensemen. I notice they have good habits. I look at Burg (sophomore Erik Burgdoerfer) every day. I want to follow them a little bit at first before I step out on my own."

Appert says getting Kennedy was huge for the Engineers.

"JFK is a hard-nosed competitor, he's a winner, he's a leader, and he's a young man you don't like playing against," Appert said. "He's mean, he's physical, he's tough ... ornery to play against."

Mean?

"He is mean - on the ice," Appert continued. "He's a wonderful young man off the ice. He really is and we're proud to have him in our program."

And RPI fans are going to love him.