Sports feature

Ottawa Senators Profile: The Unshakable Parker Kelly

Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”

– basketball coach Tim Notke

For the first time in his pro hockey career, Parker Kelly is a full-time NHL player. Sure, Kelly probably knocks on wood when people say that, but it’s a fact. He hasn’t spent a day in the minors this season.

The 23 year old from Camrose, Alberta didn’t reach this point because of his high-end skill. He didn’t get to the NHL because he lit up the American Hockey League or because the Senators invested a high draft pick in him.

No, Kelly is a full-time NHL player because his work ethic and attitude are impossible to ignore. He’s always on the unpaved extra mile – the type of player coaches go to bat for. D.J. Smith knows exactly what he’s getting every time Kelly jumps over the boards: that relentless energy and speed. And if you give the kid a chance to run you over, he’ll give that a go as well.

“Parker has long been a consistently tenacious player for us,” said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, the day he signed Kelly to his current NHL contract. “He’s competitive, hard-nosed, an efficient penalty killer and someone we can rely on to provide us with an energetic and determined effort every game.”

While Kelly is thrilled to have played almost every Senator game this season, he does feel like it’s been an up and down year.

“This is my first full season in the NHL,” Kelly said. “So you really see the grind and the mindset you’ve got to have every day. And you’ve got to be consistent. That’s one thing I’m trying to get better at is just being a good, consistent, fourth line winger. Some days, things are going to happen and you might not be the best, but it’s all about flipping the page and coming right back. So it definitely hasn’t been the year I wanted offensively. But I think my penalty kill and a lot of my defensive game has grown a lot. I think the offence will come, but I’m just happy with my consistency over these last like 20 or 30 games.

Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

FACES: Almost everybody I spoke with about you said the same things. A leader, a great guy, works his tail off. Did someone teach you those qualities or is that something that’s always come naturally?

KELLY: There are two different groups of people in that story. Obviously, my mom and my dad (Joanne and Kevin), I feel like they raised me the right way. My mom’s a teacher, so it was, ‘If you’re not working hard at school, you’re not playing hockey.’ So grades came first. And my dad pretty much taught me everything I know about the game and was my biggest supporter growing up. The work they put in with me and my brother (Ashton) is something I try to take from them and put into my everyday life.

And then my coach in junior, Marc Habscheid. He’s a really, really good person to have coached me in Junior. When I was 17, he sat down with me and was like, ‘You know, you’re kind of falling between the cracks here. If you want to get to the NHL, you’ve gotta play this way. You’re gonna do the hard things that most guys don’t want to do.’ And that just clicked with me. So I think those three people in my life kind of pushed me and gave me the guidance to get where I’m at now.

How does your family feel about the rough, fearless style you play?

They’re okay with it. It started in minor hockey in Camrose. We were rough to play against when hitting first happened. Our coaching staffs taught us how to hit properly. So, when we played city teams, we would rough ’em up. But when I got into junior, things kind of escalated with the peskiness or the rat mentality. I had to learn how to play on the edge. My dad kind of understood that style of play. But mom was more like, ‘What are you doing? You look like an idiot out there.’ But now she knows it’s my job. I know how to keep it within the guidelines now and they understand it.

In 2017, you didn’t get picked in the NHL Draft. So when did the Senators come into the picture?

Yeah, in my draft year, I didn’t really do much of anything that season (with the Prince Albert Raiders) before Christmas. Then I had a really good second half and started to work my way onto the draft rankings. But I wasn’t very high in the rankings so I wasn’t too upset about not getting picked. Then, no more than ten minutes after the draft was over, my agent called me and told me I have two invites for development camps and one was the Senators. He felt like the Senators were the best fit for me personally. So the next morning, I grabbed my stuff, flew to Ottawa, and the rest is history. It’s so crazy how it worked out with not getting drafted and then ten minutes later, I’ve got two different NHL choices.

You play a lot with Austin Watson and Dylan Gambrell, and people might not know you were all point-a-game players back in junior and college. What’s the mindset of an NHL fourth liner? Do you think about offence at all now, or is it all defence, dump and chase, and hard forechecks?

Yeah, I think it’s all time and place. The one thing about Junior is you’re playing 25 minutes a night, all scenarios, both sides of the puck. So you kind of develop the skills for that. But when you come to the NHL, your mentality has to switch. We have other guys who are playing 25 minutes a night. So my job is to go out there and get momentum and not let whoever we’re out there against get much offence. One shift you might get dealt a hand where you’re in the offensive zone for 30 seconds with grade A scoring chances. And then you might get dealt a hand where you’re hemmed in your zone. So you just gotta play good defence and take the highs and lows with it. But it’s definitely all mental.

From a team perspective, have you been able to put your finger on why you guys had another poor start?

Yeah, I think we lost our first two games and then we won four in a row. Then we kind of turned into a team we didn’t want to be. A lot of run and gun hockey and we weren’t really playing with structure. There was a point where DJ and the coaches sat us down and said, ‘You guys are a great team, great players, and you have a lot of potential. You guys can definitely live up to that and here’s how you need to play to be successful.’ And I think everyone’s just been kind of buying in and playing their role and doing their job. And when that happens, good things happen for teams.

Over the last few years, you’ve been dealing with alopecia areata, a disorder which causes clumps of hair to fall out. Can you tell us about that?

Yeah, I was actually 17 and it was my grad day. My mom started fixing my hair, thinking it looked crooked. And she’s like, ‘Did the hairdresser cut you at all or run the clippers too close? And I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ There was this small bald spot and I was just like, ‘Whatever.’ And then things got progressively worse. At age 19, 20, 21, those years in pro, it started getting really bad. I’ve never really been insecure about it. I don’t mind when guys poke fun or whatever.

A couple of years ago, I shaved it all off because it was getting kind of bad with the long hair. So I just let ‘er go. And then this summer I actually went to a dermatologist and he gave me a pill and a spray and it worked. And my hair has actually come back pretty good. There’s still a little spot on the back, but I can’t see it, so it feels like I got all my hair back [laughing].

We did the Sens gala where we met all the sponsors and my girlfriend, Kiarra, was like, ‘You should put some gel in, like, you actually have the hair now. So that was the first time in three or four years that I put gel in my hair. So, that was pretty cool.

Were you all hockey all the time as a kid or were there other interests?

I did everything. My other big sport is golf. That’s my summer thing. I never played baseball but I wish I did. I was all school sports – track and field, cross-country, badminton, basketball, volleyball. Anything sport we could play as kids growing up, we were doing it. I’m kind of a big believer in not just playing hockey. Just get out there and play everything.

As a kid, was there a favourite place where you’d play or work on your game? Maybe an outdoor rink, driveway or a basement?

Yeah, definitely the rinks back home. I always asked to just go and hang out at the rink. It’s a triplex now. Someone was always skating or practicing or watching the Kodiaks, our local junior A team. That was always the highlight of my week, going to watch them. But my backyard, that was a place where I shot a lot of pucks. And then my brother and I, playing mini sticks and video games down in the basement, like NHL Slapshot on the Nintendo Wii, all that stuff. So, yeah, a lot of memories.

What was your all-time favourite childhood hockey memory?

Kind of a crazy story, but in Bantam, we were playing Airdrie, a team just outside of Calgary. And we were the two lower ranked teams on that year, so it was a big game.

I blocked a shot in the second period and my hand was actually broken but we didn’t go check until after the game. So I finished the game and ended up scoring the game winner with five seconds left. So, kind of a crazy story just the way it happened. I know it’s Bantam and nothing really counts in Bantam, but it was a pretty cool feeling.

Before you told the whole story, I was thinking to myself, ‘That’s the most Parker Kelly thing ever, that his favorite hockey moment is blocking a shot.’ But it’s a great ending and a great story. Moving on, what NHL player did you most admire growing up?

Definitely Sidney Crosby. Just the way he carries himself. I think he’s such a good human and the way he is with his teammates and the leader he’s become, I think it’s pretty cool to watch, especially when he first came into the league right from like 2005 on. He’s definitely my favourite player to watch.

What’s your favourite TV show?

I love Friends. My girlfriend and I always have it on. It’s a big show at our house. And Formula One, Drive to Survive. Just give it a chance. I never watched Formula One in my life until that came out and it hooked me.

You just got off the ice from practice. You have a game tomorrow. How will you spend the rest of your day today?

I would just be hanging around the house. Just tidy it up a little bit. But mostly just sitting on the couch, maybe order some food in for dinner or make dinner depending on what I’m feeling. And then we have a dog, so I’ll just hang out with her all day.

What’s her name?

Her name’s Poppy. She’s a miniature dachshund. A wiener dog.

Nice. What’s your favourite place to eat in Ottawa?

Last year, when I was living at the Brookstreet, I was eating a lot of Fratelli. I would do that the day before every game. This year, living in Stittsville, I have done Napoli’s and Cabotto’s a lot. I’m a big, big Italian guy, as you can see. Love the pasta before a game

Any nicknames? Probably “Kells” right?

That’s been a big one since junior. Before junior, it was P.K. Or Parks.

I’ve been hassling today’s generation of NHL players for the general lack of creativity in nicknames. Back in the 70s, the Philadelphia Flyers had a guy named Bob Kelly. He played the same kind of game as you and had a bunch of nicknames. I want to know if you want to embrace any of his old school nicknames. How about, “The Hound?”

I like that. Yeah, I like that.

Mad Dog?

Mad Dog? Uh, I don’t think I’m crazy enough to be Mad Dog.

He was also Mutt?

Yeah… [losing interest]

And finally… and this is one that still works today because he’s a popular musician, but how about Machine Gun Kelly? Any interest there?

Wow. I like that. Like MGK? Yeah.

You don’t have to commit to anything right now. Maybe sleep on it. How did you spend your vacation in February?

Actually, my girlfriend and I went to Disney World in Orlando. So, it was busy, lots of walking, full days. We were there for seven days and had a blast.

And you’d never been there as a kid?

No, first time. I was the big kid standing in line.

Riding the Teacups and everything, I bet.

Oh, yeah [laughing]. We did everything. Everything. It was awesome.

Lastly, would you have a message for kids out there who would love to follow in your footsteps?

Yeah. The first thing I’d probably say is don’t take a day for granted. There are a lot of things that could happen and you don’t really know what tomorrow holds for you. So every day playing hockey or just being a good human being is something important. My mom would tell me to say, ‘School comes before hockey.’

What I want to say is that hockey creates good friendships and the life lessons that you learn are important. And I think that no matter what, if your mentality stays the same… like, I want to get to the NHL or I want to play this or do this… if you believe it, you can do it. And if you have to change something to get there, there are sacrifices that will have to happen along the way. They might seem like a lot of work, but when your dream pays off, it’ll feel like it was nothing. So that’s my message.

Kelly is definitely living proof that work ethic, persistence and attitude can take you a long way in this world. And that’s a great message for anyone.

By Steve Warne

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