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  □ Gernander Also Pack's Heart & Soul
April 21, 2005
By TOMMY HINE, Courant Staff Writer

Teammates half his age marvel at his hard work, stamina and conditioning.

That's just at the rink and in the weight room.

They should see what Ken Gernander does with pasta, steak and fish in the kitchen. He is as deft with a spatula and sauté pan as he is with a stick and a puck.

"I can cook anything ... on the stove, on the grill," said Gernander, the Wolf Pack's first and only captain.

"I make everything except the salad. My wife takes care of that every night. I hate washing lettuce."

Gernander, 35, then recited from memory his recipe for the caper brown butter sauce he pours over broiled salmon or grilled halibut.

This isn't a husband who only helps with dinner while his wife, Kerby, tends to their two kids. This is a husband who plays hockey and is a gourmet chef on nights off.

"He really is a good cook," Kerby said. "He's fantastic. Ken gets his Bon Appetit magazine, and he really gets into it. He'd rather read that than Sports Illustrated.

"Whenever we have people over, they know they're in for a great meal. We have an agreement. I do breakfast and lunch, and Ken does dinner on the nights he's home. Those are the nights we really eat well."

This summer, Kerby and Ken will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. Kerby is due to give birth to their third child June 9, joining McKenna, 6, and Micah, 3, in their New Britain home. "We don't know if it will be a boy or a girl," Ken said. "We don't want to know. I've never taken a birthing class. I just show up in the delivery room."

Kerby and Ken met in 1989 while undergraduates at the University of Minnesota, not in a hockey rink but at a basketball game.

"My college linemate, Trent Klatt, had been dating Kerby's twin sister, Kelly, since high school," Ken said. "He set us up on a blind date. Neither one of us was excited about it."

Something must have clicked, because the four went to another basketball game the following weekend. Kerby revealed the real reason why.

"Ken talked to Kelly the whole game," she said. "I thought he was more interested in her than me. Actually, he thought she was me the whole time."

Ken was two years ahead of Kerby at Minnesota, she on a softball scholarship and he on a full hockey ride.

While Kerby finished up her college studies, and a fifth year to work toward her Master's, Ken played with the AHL team in Moncton for three seasons. He helped Moncton reach the Calder Cup finals in 1994, and then was sent to Binghamton. Kerby joined him there and later that year, the two were engaged.

"Christmas Eve ... Rockefeller Center in New York," Ken said. "Not on the skating rink, but standing there at the railing."

Mr. Wolf Pack

Gernander has played for the Wolf Pack since the team moved to Hartford in 1997, longer than anybody. He makes about $100,000 a year.

"He is this hockey club," forward Garth Murray said. "Ken Gernander is the identity of the Wolf Pack.

"Every day, practice or games, he is the hardest worker on the ice. You can talk to him about anything. He's an unbelievable teacher on the ice. Ken is a lead-by-example kind of guy. It's a tough league. The travel is tough, and he works harder than 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. He's going to play until they tell him he can't play this game anymore."

Game days, Ken never misses a morning skate, not even the optionals.

"Every day, game or not, he is the first one here and the last to leave," wing Jed Ortmeyer said. "Ken is a great leader. When things aren't going well, he knows what to say and when to say it."

After lunch, Ken usually takes an afternoon nap before games.

"I have trouble sleeping nights, particularly if a game didn't go well. It's neat that Kerby has an athletic background, too. She understands my moods. I might blurt out my frustrations for two minutes, but I don't want to talk too much about it. She understands why I'm uptight."

Usually, during those afternoon naps on game days, Micah sleeps at his father's side.

"It's pretty cute, actually," Kerby said.

Some day, Ken hopes Micah will play hockey, too.

"Right now, he loves to swim," Ken said. "He has nets and pucks all around the house. I want him to play hockey, but I won't push him. Right now, he gets mad he can't skate. He cries, and that's the time to go home.

"McKenna skates a little bit, but she has already told me, `Hockey is not my thing.'"

Even though the Gernanders bought their New Britain home 11/2 years ago - and Ken has played here eight seasons - their roots are still in Minnesota.

"We always go back there in the off-season in late June after school gets out," Ken said. "We have a summer cottage by the lake in Coleraine. My parents live only 14 miles away, and Kerby's parents live in the Twin Cities."

Not by coincidence, Kerby's twin sister, Kelly, lives with her husband and their five children in the lakeside cottage next door.

"You should see the place in the morning," Ken said. "When I wake up, there are kids all over the place running from one house to the other to eat breakfast. It's like summer camp."

Most weekdays in the off-season, Ken - an 8- to 10-handicapper - plays golf with his father, Bob, chief scout for the NHL's Dallas Stars.

"It's like summer camp only because Dad leaves to play golf every day because he can't handle all the kids at home," Kerby said. "Really, after nine months of hockey, Ken needs that time off. His body needs it. Seeing how hard he works, believe me. I know."

But these days, Ken's mind is on the AHL playoffs, not golf.

"Right now, this is our busiest time," he said. "Everyone is tired at this time of the season. When we get one day off, it's our recovery time."

This time of year, even Ken's extensive community work takes a back seat to hockey. In the regular season, there are plenty of charities that keep Gernander and his teammates busy. They do benefit work every month for the Connecticut Children's Medical Center at Hartford Hospital, the Children's Home in Cromwell, Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, the Special Olympics bowling tournament, and reading programs in inner-city schools.

"We're a part of this community, and the people in it need our support," Gernander said. "We ask for their support to come watch us play. No one wants to play in an empty building. If we ask for their support, we have to support the community and give something back."

In season, or off-season, rarely do Kerby and Ken talk about life after hockey.

And they almost never talk about his retirement.

"No, not really," Kerby said. "He's played pretty consistent every year, and his body is not breaking down. Being an athlete myself, I can tell his body is really holding up well.

"It doesn't surprise me in the least that he's still playing. I'm glad he is. It's really fun to watch him. I can see him coaching some day. If not, Ken can do what ever he wants. He is a pretty intelligent, clever guy."

Wolf Pack coach Ryan McGill says Ken is destined to coach.

"His years here sure set him up for a good career in coaching," McGill said. "If you don't have him as your backbone, you're not in the playoffs for eight years straight, the young kids don't develop a work ethic and new people coming in don't have any idea what it takes to be a Hartford Wolf Pack player."

Seldom does Ken even think about retirement, and he won't - as long as he still loves what he does.

"No. 1, I just enjoy it," he said. "After awhile, it becomes your identity. Growing up, I was always the little kid down the street who played hockey. It gets to be a habit, a way of life. And I don't want to miss anything."

As the years have passed, Ken and his body have adapted.

"The older you get, your physical recovery is not as fast but mentally, you get stronger," he said. "It takes longer to prepare but mentally, you are prepared for that.

"I really can't see myself not playing hockey. I want to be in the moment right now. I love what I do, and I want to play the game as long as it's practical. If I didn't, I wonder, `What would I do with those energies?' I wonder, `What would I think about at night?'"

Last Updated: 21 April 2005