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Barn Brothers: A Journey

Imagine being in high school and having your six-year-old brother tagging along ALL THE TIME. The year is 1985 and I was the six-year-old brother. My older brother, Phil, was in high school and he and three of his friends were inseparable. Phil, Rob Brown, Tony Lougee, and Pat Summers. That was the clique, and they were tight as could be. They’d play pickup street hockey behind the Mechanicsburg School on Elmwood Ave or on the tennis courts at Wesley Park in Lower Allen Township. While they were playing, I was the light kid. I got to hang out with them, but my dues to do so were to keep the lights going. My main job was to drop change in the meter after the sun had set. It was here that I began to get my first taste of the game of hockey. I watched them play and even sometimes got to grab a stick, but the lights were my main job. If the court darkened you could hear the call of “BROCK!” and that was fine by me. I was on it. As I grew older and Phil went off to college, the street hockey equipment became mine. In time, my friends and I began to destroy the garage door at home during pickup games in the driveway. I loved those evenings on the pavement, but I was too busy with my other exploits to ever seriously get involved in the sport – at least that’s what I thought at the time.

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Brock Kerchner and his brother Phil, with the Calder Cup in 2010

 

Now back to 1985. Phil’s buddy, Pat Summers, is the son of the great Patriot News writer, Steve Summers. Steve followed the Hershey Bears until his passing in 1993. Steve wrote of the 1988 Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears, “The episodes in life that last so many years in memory are often measured in fleeting moments as they happen.” This quote has been read by Mike “Doc” Emrick after every Stanley Cup has been awarded since 1990. Doc uses it as a way to remember Steve Summers. Needless to say, Steve was a great person to “know” in the hockey world – and hanging out with his son came with perks. Typically this crew of 4 high school kids would frequent the Hershey Bears games when time permitted in between playing street hockey for fun and playing soccer games for Mechanicsburg High School. Almost as if I were being rewarded for my light duties at the tennis courts, I was soon allowed to go with them to the Bears games. I saw my first hockey games at Hersheypark Arena, and how lucky I am to this day to be able to say that. The Bears were a strong team back in the day, and I got to see players such as Tim Tookey, All Hill, Ross Fitzpatrick, Mitch Lamoureux, Mike Stothers, just to name a few. One guy in particular really drew my attention though. I liked the goaltender position. I have always thought that they looked really cool with all the gear and I loved the expression of individualism showing through on their painted masks (of course, it wasn’t to today’s standard). Then, along came this guy who used more then his mask to show his personality. His name was Ron Hextall, and I fell in love with the way he played almost immediately. He wasn’t in Hershey long, but he left a huge impact in my mind as well as my goalie-loving heart. The passion and intensity I saw him play with was unmatched by anything I had ever seen before. He feared nothing, and he was a star in a cast of characters that were the Hershey Bears.

My brother’s friends traveled to games regularly by riding in Rob Brown’s 1970’s blue Chevy Nova. I was thrilled to be along for the ride. We had a bungee cord across the back seats that held the doors closed and a rotary phone sitting on the dash of the car. Bag phones were just coming out back then, and they thought the rotary phone was a nice touch to the Nova (of course it was just a prop). I got to see hat tricks, bench brawls, incredible games, goalie fights, etc. I became a student of the game, learning, watching, and listening in one of the greatest hockey cathedrals in the world. At the end of each game we would head to the stairway just above the Bears’ locker room. There, we would tell the security guard that Steve Summers was our ride home, and down the stairs we’d go. As soon as we got to the bottom we would begin watching for Steve. Not because he was our ride but because we needed to hide so we wouldn’t be caught at or in the locker room. It was there that I got to hang around the players after most games and grab any discarded broken sticks in the hallway. Those broken shafts were destined to become street hockey sticks with the addition of a plastic blade on the end. I created quite a few memories back then and got some pretty neat mementos out of it too.

These times were what solidified my love for the game of hockey. I was somewhat reserved and quiet back then (especially around the older guys), but honestly, as I got deeper into enjoying the game, I started to come out of my shell. I quickly picked the Philadelphia Flyers as my team. Hershey was their farm club at the time and Ron Hextall was the “Go To Guy” for the “Broad Street Bullies” as they worked their way to the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals. That season solidified my love for the Orange and the Black. I was hooked on the Flyers and attended Bears games sporadically as I grew up.

My brother moved to Kutztown after finishing high school, and became a Bears season ticket holder not long after. I would get to go to games with him more and more as the years went by. He purchased his seats in Section 25 Row BB of Hersheypark Arena. This area was known to many as “Murderers Row.” It was here that I began to get an education in the art of heckling. I learned from the best. Crazy Dave had more “Your Mama” jokes then Arsenio Hall. Terry had the standard chants that filled my ears game after game including the still infamous “Terry BS” chant at the Giant Center [ed note: Yes, that chant]. Black Betty sat behind me and could cuss with the best of them. She always had a book to pull out and read when she got too frustrated with the team and grew tired of yelling at the coaching staff or players. I learned the art of insinuation in section 25, and learned that when perfected, it’s really more of a craft. Many of these fans wouldn’t exactly say what they wanted to say, but through proper word “massaging” everyone got the message. This would keep them from getting in trouble with security while still packing a punch. I listened, learned and still use this today when I feel it’s necessary at the Giant Center. Section 102 has had plenty of laughs thanks to the knowledge and wit I picked up in the Old Barn.

11 years after my introduction to hockey I graduated from high school and decided to continue my education at Lebanon Valley College. Little did I know that this would be a major decision in my love for the game and grant me the chance of a lifetime. LVC is only 15 minutes from Hersheypark Arena, and I began to see games pretty frequently with my brother. It was the culmination of everything I could have wanted. I got to go to games and hang out with my brother. We loved just being there. We loved the atmosphere. We loved heckling the other teams. We could stand up at our seats and reach over the glass to grab opponent’s sticks and such in a scrum at the glass. The glass was that low! My love for the game was morphing as I grew up.

It was my freshman year at LVC when I first heard the news. In 1998 LVC would ice a men’s hockey team for the first time. They were slated for NCAA Division III, and I was thrilled! In front of me was the opportunity to watch more games at the historic Hersheypark Arena and cheer on LVC. As my freshman year went on I became more and more anxious for the team to start playing. My sophomore year rolled around, and I was walking around campus when I saw a flyer up on a bulletin board asking for equipment managers for the ice hockey team. Forget the light bulb going off in my head, this set off air raid sirens in my ears! I was immediately trying to figure out a way that I could handle all my classes plus my extra commitments on campus AND become a part of the hockey team. After about 2 days I figured out a way to restructure my time that I would be able to handle the hockey duties. I would have to be VERY dedicated to my studies to get through it, but that became the least of my worries as I asked myself, “What do I know about hockey equipment minus what I had seen outside the Bears locker room when I was younger?” The answer was “nothing.” I was pretty down on myself after that realization, but I picked up the phone and made the call anyway. After dialing the number on the flyer, LVC Head Coach Al MacCormack answered the phone. Coach MacCormack asked me if I had any experience, to which I replied that I had none. He said, “Okay…” and paused for a little while. He then broke the silence by telling me to be at a meeting next week. Boy was I nervous. I couldn’t contain my excitement.

The week crawled by slowly, but the time came and I made my way to Coach’s office and introduced myself. I didn’t know what to do or say. Coach asked me if I really wanted to do this and had the time to commit. I explained how I had thought through the situation and mapped out my schedule and responsibilities. There was no doubt for me, I wanted to be a part of the team. He said, “Okay” got up and walked across the hall and motioned for me to follow him. We walked into a locker room filled with about 40 or so guys all in pretty good physical shape. Coach launched into the meeting and I quickly discerned that this was a meeting to tryout for the hockey team. I could tell some of the guys had been recruited and some were just trying to make it. He got to the end of his talk and turned to me. “This is Brock. He is the equipment manager and He will take your stick or blade requests. See you on the ice.” At that point, my jaw hit the floor. I can’t imagine the expression I had on my face when they all looked at me. I was it. I was the equipment manager. No experience. I got all the info Coach needed that night but I was over whelmed.

I soon learned that my lack of experience really wasn’t a concern to Coach, as he helped me get the training I needed from professionals. Coach had played at St. Lawrence with Jacque Martin, who was coaching the Ottawa Senators in 1998. We went down to a Flyers and Senators game and I was taught in the Ottawa locker room a lot about what an equipment manager does. It was incredible. This was the first time I had attended an NHL game, let alone to go down to both locker rooms. Jacque was very gracious and helpful, and I even punched gloves with the Flyers as they took the ice from their locker room. I learned a lot of key things that night, with one big exception. I still didn’t know how to sharpen skates. Coach asked Harry Bricker (who later became the Flyers equipment manager) to teach me how to sharpen skates. At the time, Harry was the equipment manager for the Kentucky Thoroughblades and they were in town to face off against the Hershey Bears. The date was October 24th, 1998, and I’ll never forget it. Harry showed me the ins and outs of skate sharpening. Different hollows, stoning the skate, cross-grinding, goalie sharpening, etc. He was crucial in my hockey equipment education. I was in heaven after sharpening 2 or 3 pairs of the Thoroughblades’ skates for the night’s game. I stayed for the game but didn’t sit with my brother as he had someone with him already. I can’t even begin to explain how glad I am now that I stayed. This was the infamous game were Garrett Burnett drilled Troy Crowder with a cheap shot. Scott Parker jumped the bench and pretty much took on the entire Kentucky team after destroying Christian Gosselin over and over. Parker was enraged. I have never seen anything like it. The benches cleared and even goalies Marc Denis and Evgeni Nabakov were throwing punches. It was a 5-1 Bears loss but a day I will never forget. Just another amazing memory in Hersheypark Arena for me.

The LVC team would soon be picked and I finally got to really learn my craft. I know I messed up 2 or 3 guys’ blades early on, but I learned quickly. I was still missing something though. It seems that everyone in hockey has a nickname, and I didn’t – until the night after the first practice. All the guys got together and were watching movies. “Boogie Nights” was the feature of the evening. In the film, Mark Wahlberg plays a porn star that plays a character in a film named Brock Landers. That was it. I had never even seen the movie and my nickname was “Landers”. The players immediately started calling me by this name, and I had no idea why. I discovered that I had been nicknamed after a fictitious porn star. My initial enthusiasm over this name was less then minimal, but I grew to love it. I knew who was calling for me just by the name they was used. I am pretty sure there are a couple of players who have no idea what my real name is to this day!

I learned quickly that Coach MacCormack knew what he was doing when it came to hockey, and I considered this experience a top notch education. Whether it was motivation, practice drills, game systems, breakouts, etc he was on top if it. It showed too – as LVC developed a pretty strong program in a very short period of time. We were not permitted to be in the playoffs our first year, but in our second season we faced off against UMASS-Dartmouth in the first round of the ECAC Northeast playoffs. We ended up losing a close battle, but the experience we gained brought us even closer together as a team. Up to that point, we had no idea what to expect. We were disappointed but eagerly awaited the next year. Our third season was my senior year at LVC, and I dreamed of going out on top. As the year progressed, things were falling into place. I found myself thinking, “Hey! This actually could happen.” We walked pretty easily through the early rounds, and low and behold, we made it to the Championship game. We were facing Wentworth Institute of Technology at Matthews Arena in Boston. We knew it was going to be a tough hill to climb. Most of the teams in the league didn’t care to have a Pennsylvania team in the league, and respect was something the other teams didn’t exactly show us. Coach was well aware of this, and that’s why he started an all Pennsylvania lineup in the Championship game.

This game plays through my memory as a black and white slow motion movie. I was very nervous, but calmed down as LVC took a 3-0 lead just 8 minutes into the game. I wasn’t confident going into it, but the lead had calmed my nerves. Then the tension grew as Wentworth fought back to tie the game at 3 halfway through the second period. From that point on, everyone knew the next goal was it. The game turned almost into a tennis match (seemingly fitting considering where I was first exposed to this sport) – back and forth down the ice with scoring chance after chance being turned aside until 4 minutes into the 3rd period. LVC’s Brian Yingling hit the twine. The game still changed hands back and forth but Wentworth started to push the play forward and the pressure on LVC’s defensive zone grew. It was almost unbearable until Wentworth was called for a penalty late in the game. Coach called his timeout shortly after to give his players a rest. I typically would stay away from Coach during timeouts so as to not distract any of the players, but I was really interested in what he had to say with such little time left on the clock and the Championship on the line. He still jokes with me about this moment as if I had called the timeout myself. I was practically on his shoulder, intently listening to what he had to say. I was so into the moment I never realized how much I was hovering over him. LVC held strong as Wentworth came close to tying the game up with their goalie on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice. Thankfully, the minor penalty allowed us to clear the puck without worrying about icing. The clock wound down to zero, and I had fulfilled a dream. I got to run across the ice among gloves, helmets, sticks, etc to crash the net with the guys. It was an experience and an emotion that I’ll never forget. After the championship ceremony at center ice, I carried the cup off the ice and lifted it to the heavens giving a great yell. It was AWESOME!

I graduated that year in 2001 and received my own LVC jersey for my contributions to the team. I am honored to wear my ECAC Northeast Championship ring on special occasions. It means about as much to me personally as the wedding band I wear on my left hand. Those teammates will be with me forever in that moment. I continued to help with the LVC program for the next 3-4 years as Coach would call me back to help or train a new manager. It felt great to see some of the guys and be on the bench again. After my graduation, a couple of things happened at LVC that undermined the support for the hockey program and Coach MacCormack. You could see the writing on the wall; Ice hockey at LVC was on the way out. It is now just a club sport at LVC, but that’s another story for another day.

After graduation I started working for Clear Channel Radio in sales and started buying my own Bears season tickets. Phil had decided not to renew and I quickly stepped up to take the seats. It was the Bears last season at the Old Barn, and it was very hard to say goodbye to that Arena. All of the Bears memories I had in that building along with now all of the LVC memories were housed there. We even had our Championship banner hanging above the Bears bench at Hersheypark Arena. It was hard to think of Bears or LVC hockey in any other building. The last game in the Old Barn arrived pretty quickly, and we said goodbye to the monolithic structure that Milton Hershey built because one night he couldn’t get a ticket to watch his Bears at the Ice Palace.

The amenities of Giant Center were what first drew you to it. It was new and savvy. I enjoyed the new surroundings but longed for the memories of the Old Barn in those first few seasons. As time went on new memories were made. The Bears winning the Calder Cup in 2006 seemed to truly justify Giant Center as the new home, even though they raised the cup in Milwaukee. I will never forget the 2006 Eastern Conference Final Game 7 versus Portland. This ranks as my number 1 game played at Giant Center [ed note: mine too. Eric Fehr scored in OT to send the Bears to the finals. I can still hear the puck hit the post before careening into the net]. The Bears team of 2009 shattered a lot of records on their way to bringing the Calder Cup back to Hershey and the Giant Center began to have the swagger of Hersheypark Arena. I have never heard the building louder then when the Bears won the Calder Cup on home ice in 2010 though. It was DEAFENING!

Calder 2006

I continued to support the Bears as a season ticket holder and was never shy about my love for the game. In 2006, WHP 580 News Director Bill Mead called me into his office. He said that they wanted to step up their coverage of the Bears on the 5 radio stations Clear Channel has in central Pa. He thought it would be great if I could start putting 60 second game previews and recaps together that they could use on the air. I was a little shy at first about being on the air but agreed to do it. It took me a little bit to get comfortable, but it wasn’t long before I fell in love with it. It was about this time that Frank Schofield, John Walton, and Michael Parks started airing a weekly hockey show called, “The Old Barn Hockey Show” and of course, it was right up my alley. Frank would sometimes question me on certain topics or fish for some material for the show. I was proud to be a help to them as I really enjoyed the show. I started to help run the show’s Facebook page and take photos for them. John named me the PR Director for the show in jest, but it stuck. I would sometimes chime in during a segment but never for long. Then late one Sunday night in February of 2011, I got a text from John Walton. John was very sick, and unable to man the show. I was completely shocked to be asked to fill in for one of the best on radio in the AHL. I was ecstatic and worried at the same time. I wasn’t so sure I had 60 minutes worth of material and what if I didn’t know enough to banter on what Frank brought up? It was a scary proposition but I made it through and gained more time throughout the season on the air with Frank and John. Who would have thought? John got the call that most people dream of and is now the Voice of the Capitals. Frank, Parks, and I welcomed Scott Stuccio to the show this year and he has been a natural fit. Scott has become a quick close friend and I am very happy to have him aboard. It is a true dream for me every Monday to put the headphones on and talk hockey with these guys. The support we get from the fans is amazing.

Calder 2010

After the Bears won the Calder Cup in 2010, I was presented with the opportunity to have the Cup for a day. I never would have believed that this could have been a possibility but on September 18th, 2010 I got to be the handler of the Calder Cup for 30 hours. I had the plan of my day scheduled to the minute. We started at Hersheypark Arena and then to the chocolate factory for family pictures. I then owed it to long time off ice official and LVC hockey official Walt Smith to visit him with the Cup. He had passed away in January and I wanted him to share the cup with me during my day. We then toured special spots in my hometown of Mechanicsburg that hold their own places in my heart. Gabby (my daughter, aptly named after Bruce Boudreau) got to pull the Cup around the neighborhood in her red wagon and spend some time with it in her playhouse. I learned throughout the day that the best part of having the Calder Cup was sharing it with others. I did this throughout my 30 hours of glory, visiting and surprising fans and friends alike. It was so rewarding to watch people’s reactions to seeing it and holding it for the first time. We went so many places in such a short time period. One of the places I knew I wanted to go was where it all started for me. We stopped by the tennis courts at Wesley Park in Lower Allen Township and I placed the Cup on top of the light meters I fed some 25 years earlier. It meant a lot to me to bring the Cup back to where my love for the game had started. A large party was slated for my parent’s house that evening, and it continued deep into the night. It was perfect to have the Cup around the bonfire until the wee hours of the morning with my family and friends, drinking from the cup and posing for pictures. I was no prouder then when I finally got to hand the Calder Cup to my brother so he could lift it for the first time. I got chills I was so happy to see him drink from the chalice of the team we had cheered on for so many years. He had introduced me to the wonderful game of hockey, the Hershey Bears, and Hersheypark Arena. The moment was truly because of him. I have continued the tradition with my family and we attend every game. The best part is all I have to do is look to my left and Phil is right there again just like back in Section 25. Many helped me along the way but Phil made the extra effort by letting his 6 year old brother tag along as a High School student. I doubt many out there would have done the same. It is amazing to see now that Phil’s small gesture has turned into such an adventure. Thanks Phil. You will always be my Barn Brother.

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