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The puck didn't stop here Sons of ex-high school stars in NHL's sights

They're all in their mid-40s now, former high school hockey captains who weren't thinking about the National Hockey League -- or fatherhood -- when they battled in March 1978 for the city high school hockey championship.

Bill Moran and Pat Kane were key defensemen on the McKinley High School team that lost to South Park and the captain, Jim Kennedy, in the Explorer League series played before packed houses at Holiday Twin Rinks.

Their hockey careers didn't go much further. But all three settled down in Buffalo, where they married, raised families and passed on their love of hockey to their kids.

Now, as Father's Day approaches, these former youth hockey combatants share a second, even rarer bond, as fathers of three NHL prospects.

Patrick Kane, Pat's son, is considered a sure top-five pick in the NHL draft next weekend. Several mock drafts have him going first overall to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Tim Kennedy, Jim's boy, who helped Michigan State win the NCAA hockey title in April, was drafted by Washington in 2005 and quickly traded to the Buffalo Sabres.
And Chris Moran, Bill's son, recently won Rookie of the Year honors in Niagara University's league, College Hockey America. He could be a late-round pick next weekend.

This is a tale of fathers and sons, long-ago hockey stars at the local level raising boys who have starred on a larger stage, in Division I and junior hockey.

The sons have long since zoomed past their fathers' hockey accomplishments, and the dads couldn't be more thrilled.

As Jim Kennedy said, "We were all pretty good hockey players, but I couldn't even lace my kid's skates now."

The fathers deserve some credit. Not only was hockey in their genes, but they also coached their kids when they were younger, Kane with Cazenovia and West Seneca, Moran at West Seneca and McKinley High Schools, and Kennedy with the Regals.

The three men preached the importance of skill development, about drills that emphasized the finer points of hockey, such as how to catch and cradle a pass. But that's not the only lessons they delivered on the ice.

"What did [Chris] get out of my coaching?" Moran asked. "I was committed. I always did everything 100 percent."

"I tried to teach [Patrick] to work hard every shift," Kane added. "You never know who's in the building."

"I always tell [kids] to be good to the game, and the game will be good to you," Kennedy added.

As the trio renewed acquaintances in Kane's South Buffalo backyard on a gorgeous summer evening, the talk naturally turned back to March 1978.

That best-of-three championship series has to be put into perspective. This was almost 30 years ago, long before the Amherst Pepsi Center. Not many high schools had hockey teams, and fewer Western York players were being eyed as NHL prospects. The stands for the South Park-McKinley series were filled with fans, fueling a frenzy for the players.

"For them, at that time, that seemed as big as being in an NHL game," former McKinley coach Peter Hurley said. "We packed the place. It was a huge rivalry, us and South Park. It was very contentious, but there was a lot of mutual respect and admiration for each other. And they respected the game."

Kennedy, the South Park captain, was a goal scorer, a feisty forward known for his work in the corners.

Moran, the McKinley captain, was a hard-hitting defenseman, while Kane, the assistant captain, was an offensive defenseman, a good skater and smart with the puck.

How competitive were they?

Kane never has forgotten that Moran beat him out for the McKinley captaincy. All three remember key moments from the three-game series, the "war" that ended with South Park's 1-0 win in the final game.

No NHL players came out of that Screaming Eagles-Sparks matchup. But one U.S. congressman did: South Park forward Brian Higgins. Former South Park coach John McKendry remembered Higgins as a good player -- but more so as a crowd magnet for drawing senior girls to the games.
Kane and Kennedy have stayed in South Buffalo, Moran in Riverside. Yet when their sons started to become dominant players, they never hesitated in letting them move away to hone their competitive skills.

Tim Kennedy and Chris Moran both went to the United States Hockey League, Kennedy to Sioux City and Moran to Omaha. Patrick Kane went to London in the Ontario Hockey League.

"All three of us were smart enough to get our kids to the higher level, instead of letting them dominate at a lower level," Bill Moran said.

They've logged thousands of miles to watch their kids play. Kennedy said he could drive to East Lansing, Mich., "in my sleep."

Seeing their sons make it to the NHL might be the ultimate moment of pride for these fathers. But maybe there's one more thrill they'd cherish.

"I hope that some day my son does for his son what I did for him," Moran said.

Kane, especially, has a right to bust his buttons with pride over the accomplishments of his son, who could be the first overall pick in the NHL draft.

But the only thing close to bragging was a story he told about Patrick Kane, at about age 9.

Father and son went to a Sabres-Carolina Hurricanes game. For three hours, young Patrick pestered the Carolina stick boy for a player's stick, finally being rewarded with Ron Francis's. But leaving the arena, with his prized stick in tow, Patrick saw a young fan in a wheelchair.

"Dad, do you mind if I give the stick away?" he asked.

"The chills went through my body," the elder Kane said.

Just another great rink memory.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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