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After traveling globe, Kennedy finally comes home to Buffalo

Yes, Tim Kennedy admits, there were a few years with what ifs.

What if he never walked into that arbitration room to argue money with the Buffalo Sabres? What if he’d just accepted the Sabres’ contract offer?

He and his wife would have gotten to spend Christmases in their hometown. Their kids would have played with their cousins in South Buffalo. He might have stayed in the NHL rather than crisscross the globe.

“Not so much now, but the first few years after the whole sticky situation that happened here that summer, you always think, ‘If you didn’t walk into that room, what would have happened? If you just said OK?’” Kennedy said Wednesday. “But that’s life. You make decisions, and you have to live with those decisions. I’ve lived with those decisions.”

Kennedy has lived with the decision in Connecticut, Rochester, Florida, San Antonio, Massachusetts, San Jose, Phoenix, Pennsylvania, Russia, Finland and Sweden.

After those myriad stops, he found himself back where it all started Wednesday. He was in Buffalo, taking the opening faceoff in KeyBank Center.

“The only things that are still the same from what I remember here are the parking lot, the security entrance … and I think that’s it,” the Rochester Americans center said. “Everything else has changed. The rink bring brings back some memories, good ones.”

Kennedy immediately recalled his first NHL game. The South Buffalo native pulled on a Sabres jersey Dec. 27, 2008. The following season, he played in 78 games, recording 10 goals and 16 assists. He skated six more times in the postseason.

“It's hard to believe I was 23 and it was seven years ago now,” Kennedy said. “The years just kind of flew by. You snap your fingers, and now I’m 30 years old with three kids. It’s a lot different.

“’I’m just happy to be back in the organization and happy to be playing in Rochester now.”

Happiness has often eluded Kennedy since leaving Buffalo, at least when it comes to hockey. That’s because he never wanted to leave.

After an arbiter awarded Kennedy a $1 million contract in the summer of 2010, then-Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier cited an “internal budget” and promptly waived and bought out the forward.

“It didn’t just affect me,” Kennedy said. “It affected my wife and my kids. My kids weren’t born yet, but it did in a way.

“I was young and I think naïve almost, but at the same time it’s a league where you’ve got to get your foot in the door and you’ve got to take a stand. Maybe it wasn’t the right stand to take, but it’s in the past now. I’m just very happy with where I am now, and we’re happy to be back home after traveling around the world these last six, seven years.”

The Sabres signed Kennedy to a minor-league in December, and he made his long-awaited return to Buffalo for Rochester’s game against Utica. He’s been what the organization wanted, a veteran presence who can put up points (15 in 23 games).

“I think I’ve played pretty well in Rochester, and I think it’s because I’ve been happy the whole time,” Kennedy said. “It sounds stupid, but if you’re happy you’re probably going to play well.”

He knows the opposite is true. Separated from his family at the start of this season, he was miserable in Sweden. He and Lulea agreed to part ways after a poor start.

Sweden was paradise compared to being in Russia in 2015-16. He signed with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the Kontinental Hockey League. Nizhnekamsk is home to a petrochemical plant, and the city was off-limits to visitors.

“My experience last year in Russia was something like you read about in books,” he said. “You don’t believe it’s true until you go over there and experience it for yourself firsthand. You tell people stories, and they’re just like, ‘Wow.’

“Until you experience life in Russia, you take for granted how good it is here. I’m not saying all of Russia, but certain parts of it are everything you hear about.”

There have been good times. He’s played 171 NHL games, including three in the playoffs with San Jose in 2013.

“Obviously, my time here would be No 1, then I think my time with the Sharks would be my second,” Kennedy said. “It’s pretty special when you can play with guys like Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Scott Gomez, Martin Havlat. They had a ton of guys you grew up watching, and it’s pretty cool to be in the same room with those guys, travel, go on the ice and share the playoff experience with them.”

There may not be any playoffs this season for the last-place Amerks, but there is – finally – a chance to be home.

“You have friends and family that are out grabbing tickets, so they’re excited for it,” Kennedy said. “It’s always nice to play at home in front of your friends and family. It’s very cool to play back here.”

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