Once his four-year run with the Ohio State men's hockey team came to an end, Brendon Kearney prepared himself for a year in graduate school as he pursued a degree in accounting.

Kearney wasn't necessarily thinking about coaching, but a few connections landed him with the New Albany hockey team, where he is continuing the soft-spoken but pivotal role that earned him a prestigious national award as a member of the Buckeyes.

"It was something I didn't necessarily search out but I had a passion for it given the right opportunity and this was it," Kearney said. "As I started to focus on my career, this came about. It was the perfect pairing to still work on school but at the same time, dip my foot into coaching and see where I stood. I thought I could do all right with (coaching), but it's a different side. I like to do rather than tell, but if I can help one kid with his game or with life, that would be pretty special to me."

Kearney, a Northville, Michigan, native who was a two-time national champion in junior hockey, recently wrapped up a college career that saw him record 19 goals, 29 assists and 87 blocked shots in 137 games. Ohio State made the NCAA tournament in each of Kearney's final three seasons and advanced to the Frozen Four in 2018.

For his accomplishments on and off the ice, including community service and volunteer work, Kearney earned the Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award in April. The award goes to a player "who displays exemplary sportsmanship, is supremely competitive, intelligent and extraordinarily conditioned with an unmatched work ethic," according to the Hockey Commissioners Association.

Kearney was voted the Buckeyes' Unsung Hero twice, as a junior and a senior.

"The (team) award was special because it came from my peers. Everything I did at Ohio State was part of what the job entailed," Kearney said. "The national one was pretty cool as well, especially knowing it comes from people who aren't around you from day to day. It's a very humbling thing."

Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik was captain of Wisconsin's 1990 national championship team, on which Eagles head coach Matt Buss was a member. Former Ohio State assistant coach Mark Strobel also was a teammate of Buss with the Badgers.

"I tell (Kearney) all the time that he's overqualified to be an assistant coach for me," Buss said. "He fell into my lap. What he did at Ohio State speaks for itself to me. He blends in well. The players look up to him and respect him. Everything he has done speaks volumes. He's a great role model for them."

Buss' trust in Kearney is such that he allowed Kearney to run practice Dec. 12 at Chiller Easton. The one-hour session largely emphasized defensive zone drills, although Buss said Kearney does not necessarily specialize in one area.

"It's a level of coaching I've personally never seen before," senior forward/defender Noah LaCommare said. "The one thing I think he focuses on more is faceoffs. I've never been on a team that really drew up faceoff plays so him trying to teach us those is new and beneficial."

New Albany is 5-5 overall and 1-1 in the Capital Hockey Conference entering a Thursday, Dec. 19, game against Olentangy Orange at Chiller Easton. The Eagles opened CHC play Dec. 13 with a 5-4 loss to St. Charles and defeated Dublin Jerome 3-1 on Dec. 15.

Kearney emphasizes contributions that tend to be overlooked with the team, as evidenced by the pride that he takes in his number of blocked shots as a Buckeye.

"The first four stories that come to my mind (from his college career) will be something involving blocking a shot before I tell you about a big goal," Kearney said. "It's fun to talk to the kids about it. You know how much that helps not only your play but winning championships. They definitely sting but we push them to get comfortable with it. That bruise feels a lot better when you have a ring on your finger at the end of the year."

Boys basketball team off to hot start

The boys basketball team rebounded from its only loss with two overtime wins last week, 68-62 at Westerville North on Dec. 10 and 51-49 over OCC-Capital Division rival Big Walnut three nights later.

New Albany also defeated Mount Vernon 62-50 on Dec. 14 behind a career-high 28 points from Justin Perry to improve to 5-1 overall. The Eagles, who are more than halfway to their eight-win total from all of last season, are 1-1 in the OCC-Capital entering a Friday, Dec. 20, home game against Groveport.

Jayden Lewis had 17 points and Chris Benseler added 13 against North, which the Eagles outscored 33-14 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Lewis' 16 points and 14 from Perry led New Albany past the Golden Eagles, and Udai Singh recorded a key blocked shot in the final seconds to preserve the win.

The Eagles' only loss was to Newark, 69-55 on Dec. 6.

Swimmers prepare for Golden Bears

The girls swimming and diving team holds the distinction of being the only area team to hand perennial power Upper Arlington a loss in a dual meet in the past eight seasons, and New Albany will try to make it two a row against the Golden Bears when the Eagles visit UA on Friday, Dec. 20.

The girls edged UA 93-92 on Dec. 15, 2018. The boys lost to the Bears 101-92.

New Albany went on to finish second (295 points) behind UA (306) in the Division I district meet two months later, and the Eagles placed seventh at state eight days after that, two places behind UA.

The Bears have been the state's most successful girls program in recent years, winning 12 state championships and earning two runner-up finishes since 2003.

In their first meeting this season, New Albany finished second (304) to UA (383) in the 41-team Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 14 at Ohio State. The boys finished third (260) of 35 teams behind the champion Bears (459.5).

Mia Lachey won the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 4.36 seconds) and was second in the 500 freestyle (4:59.49) to lead the girls. Jimmy Lapsley won the boys 100 backstroke (50.37) and helped the 200 medley relay to first place (1:34.82).

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey and swimming & diving teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

*Dec. 20 -- Home vs. Groveport

GIRLS BASKETBALL

*Dec. 20 -- At Groveport

HOCKEY

*Dec. 19 -- Olentangy Orange at Chiller Easton

*Dec. 22 -- Olentangy at Chiller Easton

SWIMMING & DIVING

Dec. 20 -- At Upper Arlington

Dec. 21 -- Home vs. Watterson

*League contest