Rangers' Kevin Rooney on his doubters, killing penalties and Boston sports

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Rangers winger, and former Devil, Kevin Rooney takes a shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: How have the doubters impacted you?

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A: Oh, significantly. I had quite a few, especially when I was playing in New Jersey, and it always just motivates and fueled me to be better, and then I feel like once I signed in New York, I was appreciated a lot more. That’s why I’ve felt as comfortable as I have in New York versus New Jersey. But even prior to being in New Jersey, there were always doubters. I remember there was a guy that wrote an article my senior year. It was something along the lines of underrated players to watch in the NCAA Tournament that will never play pro. I remember reading the article saying, “He appreciates me but he doesn’t think I’m gonna play pro at all.” So little things like that have always motivated me.

Q: Describe coach Gerard Gallant.

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A: He’s been amazing. He instills confidence in our group that I don’t think I’ve had in any coach. Before every game, he makes you believe 100 percent that we’re gonna win the game, I’ve never had a coach that does that. He’s not very technical or anything, but the way he delivers his messages has been unbelievable, and such a good addition for us this season.

kevin rooney, new york rangers, serby's q&a

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Kevin Rooney found motivation in his doubters.

Corey Sipkin

Q: Can you describe the way he delivers his messages?

A: Even if we know maybe in the back of our head the last game or the last period or whatever it may be, the last shift wasn’t as great as it should be, he’s always been so positive and confident in our group that it’s easy for us to reset if it’s a tough shift, a tough period. We seem to be able to forget about it quicker than maybe we had in the past, and I think that’s part of why we’ve grown as a group, at least what I’ve seen over the last two years.

Q: Describe Chris Kreider.

A: Power. He’s like the strongest guy on the team. I’d probably just say strength and speed.

Q: Give me an example of his leadership.

A: A little bit during the season, I’ve rotated between playing center and playing wing, and I’ve always been a center pretty much my whole career. Kreids has been amazing with helping me whether it be breakouts, positioning in the D-zone, getting pucks off the wall which you don’t really ever get as a centerman. Just little things like that, he’s always trying to help guys improve their game, which obviously helps the team. He’s been a tremendous leader for us.

Q: Igor Shesterkin.

A: Makes everything look easy. He’s by far the best goalie in the league right now. He makes you look like you can’t shoot the puck in practice (laugh), that’s for sure.

Q: Mika Zibanejad.

A: Just quiet confidence. Such a good leader, just leads by example. He also plays the center ice position, so he’s one of those guys that I’ve certainly looked up to and tried to learn a lot from since I’ve been in New York.

kevin rooney, new york rangers, serby's q&a

Kevin Rooney know the penalty kill is his meal ticket, and takes pride in his abilities.

Corey Sipkin

Q: Adam Fox.

A: Smart. Seems to make the right play, and obviously sees the game a little quicker than everybody else.

Q: Artemi Panarin.

A: Same thing with Foxy I’d say — his smarts and then his skill set. I was actually lucky enough to sit next to him in the locker room, him and Ryan Strome, and I remember getting to New York my first day, and feeling so confident about myself being next to those guys and talking to those guys every day.

Q: Ryan Reaves.

A: I’ve been so impressed how he brings it every night. He’s been huge for us whether it’s finishing checks or locker-room presence and helping the young guys or getting in there and get in a fight. I know not many people want to fight him though (laugh).

Q: What adjectives would you use to describe your game?

A: I’d probably say tenacious, competitive … maybe say smart.

Q: Do you enjoy the penalty kill?

A: Oh yeah, take a lot of pride in the penalty kill. I know that in order to stay in the league, it’s something I have to be good at. It’s always something I watched video on and really studied. You got a group of guys that are really committed to it right now, and when you have the best goalie in the world, it makes your PK look a lot better. I feel like what we’ve done here has really suited my type of game.

Q: What are you most proud of that has enabled you to get where you’re at?

A: I think I’m probably the most proud of how I’ve developed and stayed coachable at every level. When I was in college [Providence], I was a walk-on freshman, no scholarship. And I was always trying to learn from guys that were ahead of me and coaches that I had. When I left Providence College, I signed an American Hockey League contract. I worked on my game there, and really bought into the coaches and the veterans that have been there and then eventually ended up earning myself an NHL contract. So I’d say probably just most proud of the way I did it and how I did it the right way, and always getting better at each level.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

A: I had signed an NHL contract in New Jersey, I had not made the team the next year after I signed it, and then I got called up for a few games, got sent back down [in 2017-18], the next season kind of the same thing happened, didn’t make the team, when I got sent down the first 30-so games in the minors, I didn’t score a goal. I was supposed to be the next guy called up, and on everyone’s radar, and I think it was a really tough time for me then. I somehow kind of found my [game] out of that and scored and then ended up getting called up, so I finished the year with only one goal in the AHL. After I had scored that, they called me up and I stayed up for good.

kevin rooney, new york rangers, serby's q&a

The Rangers have benefitted from Kevin Rooney’s team-player mentality.

Corey Sipkin

Q: Describe your on-ice mentality.

A: I would say hard to play against, someone that’s gonna always be there for teammates, and try to be a team player.

Q: What drives you?

A: I think winning. Every guy’s really bought into what their game is. You don’t always see that in the NHL. Usually you’ll have guys that think they’re something that they’re not. I think we’ve done a great job of having each guy identify what they’re great at.

Q: If you could pick the brain of any player in NHL history, who would it be?

A: Bobby Orr.

Q: If you could have a breakaway on any goalie in NHL history?

A: Dominik Hasek. Just loved his style. I just loved a goalie that just battled like he did.

Q: Where were you during the Boston Marathon tragedy?

A: I was at Providence College. Once it happened, some classes were canceled right away. I just remember being kind of like in shock and people being nervous at college, because it was obviously not far from Providence. We have a charity it’s called We Beat Cancer, and so we had a bunch of runners running for us and so that was kind of my initial thought was make sure they’re OK. Yeah obviously it was really sad, it was a tough day for sure.

Q: BostonStrong.

A: That was awesome, it was so cool, especially the next Red Sox game when David Ortiz came out and basically said, “This is our city,” and whatnot. That was pretty cool how the city rallied behind a tough time. It was cool to see the atmospheres at the TD Garden and Fenway and whatnot after the events.

Q: Why is that charity a cause for you?

A: My uncle [Jeff] had cancer, and he had battled it and beat it. He was kind of retired at the time, and he wanted to start this foundation, where they raise money and they pay for little things when you’re going in for treatments — whether it’s parking or just meals or whatnot, extra chairs in the rooms and all that stuff. He started it and then a couple of years later the cancer came back and he ended up passing away [in 2016]. A few of my cousins and my brother, we’ve always tried to keep the tradition of the foundation going.

kevin rooney, new york rangers, serby's q&a

Kevin Rooney won the 2015 national championship with Providence College.

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Q: Describe winning the 2015 NCAA championship.

A: It was amazing. We came in with such a huge class, so when we won it, we had a pretty special bond between our group of guys that were in my class. It was really special, especially being in Boston, obviously from where I’m from [Canton, Mass.].

Q: What is your best single hockey moment?

A: I would probably say my first NHL game [March 2, 2017]. It was in Washington. I remember just being in warm-ups, not even really warming up, just looking at the other end, and seeing [Alex] Ovechkin and [T.J.] Oshie and [Nicklas] Backstrom and all those guys. It finally was hitting me then that, “Oh this is real, I got to this point.”

Q: Who were your favorite members of the Red Sox growing up?

A: Dustin Pedroia; Jonathan Papelbon; David Ortiz obviously; Manny Ramirez.

Q: How often did you go to Fenway?

A: I went a lot, actually. My family owns a bar right outside of Fenway, they actually just sold it right before COVID hit, so they kind of hit the lottery there. It was called The Baseball Tavern, so all my cousins and stuff would work there.

Q: Who were your favorite Celtics growing up?

A: Paul Pierce. Ray Allen was awesome, but definitely Paul Pierce, me and my brother had Paul Pierce jerseys.

Q: Favorite Bruins?

A: Sergei Samsonov, Joe Thornton. When they won the Cup in 2011, I was a big fan of the Merlot line — it was Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Greg Campbell — so it was kind of like what my role is on New York a little bit.

Q: Who was your boyhood idol?

A: I would probably just say my dad. Someone I always looked up to. He was my coach in minor hockey and all the way up.

Q: How about hockey-wise?

A: Joe Thornton. I was always a big fan of his when he was on the Bruins, someone that I like kind of tried to model my game after. I’m not similar in any which way, but someone when I was younger I thought I could be.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Larry Bird.

Q: How did you feel about Brady leaving the Patriots and winning the Super Bowl last year for the Buccaneers?

A: Obviously I was really disappointed when he left, just like any other Pats fan, but I was obviously still a fan of his. Once the Pats weren’t in it, I was rooting for Tampa and once again this year I’m rooting for Tampa now.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Shawshank Redemption.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Adam Sandler.

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Jennifer Aniston.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: Thomas Rhett.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Lobster.

Q: Describe Rangers fans.

A: Amazing. We had a game in Arizona where there were way more Ranger fans than Coyote fans. And we came back late in the third period and won the game, and I remember them being a huge factor out there. We had one up in Buffalo where there were way more Ranger fans than Sabre fans. Obviously the East is so tight, so all those points that we can accumulate with them helping us on the road and at home have been huge.

Q: What’s it like being a New York Ranger?

A: It’s special, it’s something I definitely don’t take lightly. I remember when I was signing here how proud I would be to be able to put that Original Six sweater on for the first time.

Q: Is this team a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?

A: I think we definitely are. I think we have the right pieces to go far. We got great goaltending, we have an amazing D corps, we feel we have good depth up front. It’s been a fun ride this year. Got a great group of guys. We went with the six alternate captains, bringing the team together whether it’s going out to eat on the road or hanging out on the road, I think we have a really good team dynamic that you don’t really see much in pro hockey. It’s a little bit more business-oriented ’cause it is a business, but this team seems special with the group we have.

Q: Does it remind you of your Providence College national championship team?

A: Yeah, absolutely it definitely does, ’cause even on that team, we had such good role players, we had a great goalie [Jon Gillies] and a team that really jelled off the ice, not just on the ice. That’s pretty similar to what we have here.

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