Once the Binghamton Devils named Kevin Rooney their captain on Nov. 20 many assumed that he wouldn’t be back in the NHL this season after appearing in four games during the end of the October. But the third-year pro earned himself another recall on Jan. 10 and he’s been a fixture in the New Jersey Devils lineup ever since.
“I feel like each game I’m learning new things. Especially from the older guys here, the guys that have been playing in this league for a long time,” said Rooney after playing in his 14th straight NHL game. “I’m just trying to learn, and get better every day and go from there. It’s not always going to be perfect but I’m trying to get there and trying to help the team in any possible way.”
A job was there for the taking and Rooney has done just that. There have been injuries galore in New Jersey and there was also the trade of Brian Boyle that opened up a spot in the lineup. In just over a month Rooney has carved out a nice little role for himself with the Devils, killing penalties and anchoring the fourth line.
“We obviously have some guys who are stepping up who were either called up or hadn’t played much, they’re getting pretty prominent roles and ice-time now and that’s great. It’s good to see guys expand their roles and try to take on new responsibilities,” said Devils goalie Cory Schneider of young players like Rooney who are playing important minutes for the team as of late.
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“Every team goes through injuries, trades, all that stuff so we’re not unique or special in that regard. We’ve had moments where we’ve had struggles because of youth, inexperience, even the older guys as well. But games like this win against Buffalo and the one in Minnesota they really dug in and it’s great to see a character response from guys who we are trying to find out something about.”
“They provide good energy. They’re smart players and they think defense first generally which is great for a goalie. A couple of big spots opened up with Blake (Coleman) out, Brian (Boyle) getting traded, and Pavel (Zacha) out now – that’s three of our top penalty killers,” added Schneider. “Therein lies opportunity and these guys have overall done a really good job trying to fill that role and it gives the team options. The more you know about a guy the more decisions you have to make and I think an organization likes that.”
Over the past 15 games, especially over the past nine, he’s seen an increase in ice-time, responsibility and he’s really impressed the coaching staff. In the 21 games that he’s appeared in this season, he’s seen a total of 36:27 during penalty kill situations. Among rookies that ranks him 17th in the entire league, and only three of the players ahead of him have played in less than 30 games. Only four rookies have taken more face-offs than Rooney has while their team is shorthanded.
“Kevin has really come in and done a very good job. I think when you see him play his size is a factor, his speed is a factor, I think he can push the pace of play, and he’s a strong forecheck guy. One of the things we asked him to work on, and we’ve tried to work on with him whether it’s here or in Binghamton, is getting stronger on the puck and heavier on the puck in the offensive zone,” explained New Jersey coach John Hynes. “I think he’s done that. His faceoffs have improved, and he’s a guy that we already knew that he was an excellent penalty killer.”
“Now he’s getting a real good opportunity on the kill and he’s doing a very good job. But I think when you look at Kevin it was a situation of a player developing, he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL in his previous call-ups and now (we’re) looking at him as a more mature guy that’s been developed throughout the organization. Now we’re seeing a guy that looks like he’s an NHL player and can play a role. He’s got NHL speed, an NHL body, and he also has attributes to be a player. We’re going to hopefully continue to work with him the rest of the season and continue to develop him into a full-time guy for us that can be effective.”
Mentor and Family Friend
Despite the departure of Boyle via trade to Nashville, the veteran has had a huge impact on the development of the 25-year-old Rooney. And that impact will likely continue for the duration of his professional career. Rooney’s family lives really close to Boyle’s family and as he told us, their families have been close for quite some time.
“Brian has helped me a lot. Luckily I’ve actually known him for a long time, we live two towns over from him and he’s helped me a ton,” the kid from Canton, Massachusetts said. “He had some great advice for me when he left and now I’m just trying to take it to the next level, have my confidence grow every game and continue to learn from the guys that are here now.”
Though they are on different teams now, once the season ends and the preparation begins for the 2019-20 season the two will cross paths again. “Absolutely, I’m sure I’ll be talking to him this summer, and probably even training with him,” Rooney said. “I’ll see him a lot and he’s been a good family friend for a lot of years. Definitely someone I will keep in touch with.”
As we mentioned at the top Rooney was named the captain of the Devils AHL affiliate in Binghamton and assuming that he’s with New Jersey for the final 22 games, once the NHL season ends he will return to the AHL and resume those duties. “It was a great honor, something that I didn’t really expect in my third year as a pro,” he said of being named the first captain of the Binghamton Devils. “I didn’t try to change anything, I just try to be myself and learn from past leadership roles. I tried to help the young guys in Binghamton – there are some pretty talented kids down there that one day will be here (in New Jersey).”
Rooney, who was named the team captain his final year with Providence College and in his final season at Berkshire School, is still keeping tabs on his AHL teammates. “Yup. I’m actually the Admin of the group chat,” he said with a grin. “So I see everything that’s going on and I try to chime in to see how they’re doing. I also try to talk to coach Mark Dennehy as much as I can.”
He wasn’t a high draft pick, in fact, he wasn’t drafted at all. He was part of an NCAA Championship with Providence (2015) and is hopeful that one day he’s part of a Stanley Cup championship. He has been a nice find for the Devils organization and after listening to what Coach Hynes had to say about his development he could be a solid player in their bottom-6 for the next few seasons.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.