Kero joins familiar faces with Stars

The Comets’ Tanner Kero pursues a loose puck during a game against the Sound Tigers in 2018 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. (Utica Comets/Courtesy Photo)

DALLAS — Tanner Kero, Hancock native and former Michigan Tech Huskies center from 2011-2015, signed a two-year, two-way contract with the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars earlier this week. Kero, who finished his previous two-year contract with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, will likely spend at least the early portion of his new contract with the Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars.

With a new hockey season came a new opportunity.

“Going into being a free agent this summer (was) really exciting and (made me) really nervous, too,” Kero said, “with not knowing what’s going to happen going into the next season, but we had a lot of good talks with a number of different teams over the past week or so.

“We tried to find the best fit for me and my goals going forward. I think being part of Dallas is going to be the best fit for me and I’m really excited.”

Kero joined several new Stars’ skaters as Dallas added Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, and Andrej Sekera on Monday.

Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Left: The Blackhawks’ Tanner Kero controls the puck during a game two seaons ago. Kero signed a two-year, two-way contract earlier this week with the Stars.

After appearing to break through with the Blackhawks in 2016-17, Kero struggled with injuries the last two seasons, spending more time in the AHL than the NHL. For him, improving his game after recovering from those injuries while with the Rockford IceHogs and the Utica Comets, where he scored 57 points on the strength of 24 goals, is a matter of focusing on the minute details of his game.

“I want to continue to have a productive offseason and continue to make sure to continue to work on all the little things that (I) can get better (at with) the strength training, the on ice stuff or doing as much of that as possible,” he said, “then just going into the training camp in September and try to make the team right out of camp.

“I think that’s the ultimate goal. I want to get back to playing in the NHL and it starts there.”

For Kero, it starts with feeling more rested this year.

“Last summer, I had a little shorter of a summer and was recovering from a couple of injuries from the season before,” he said. “It was more of a rehab summer. This summer I’m feeling a lot healthier and I’ve got a little more time this summer to get back into it.

“We’re going to be pushing it pretty hard and making sure (my) body’s in as good of shape as possible going into camp.”

A number of factors can come into play when a free agent like Kero chooses their respective team. In Dallas, Kero sees a sense of comfort in Huskies alum Joel L’Esperance, who also plays in the organization, along with an opportunity to round out his offensive and defensive game.

“I think it’s super exciting,” Kero said. “That was one of the positives going into choosing Dallas, having a familiar face down there to ask some questions about what the setup is and what the routine is. Just those little things that your unaware of when you join a new team.”

Another pair of former Huskies have spent a significant amount of time with the Stars in defenseman Shane Hanna and general manager Scott White. However, it is getting back on the ice with L’Esperance that has Kero most intrigued heading into the season.

“To have a familiar face is going to be exciting and make it a little bit easier on myself right away,” said Kero. “Ultimately we want to play together, especially if we can up top and to have a former teammate to play with will be super exciting.

Given how important to the local community hockey is, Kero grew up bathed in that excitement and it continues to drive him today.

“That big hockey culture up here has made me want to stick with hockey and want to pursue hockey as a dream,” he said. “Having the support up here with being a small community has definitely helped. You feel it wherever you go, people are always rooting for you and that definitely helps.”

As an unrestricted free agent, Kero had his hands full trying to find the right place for him.

“The more choices and options you have the better,” he said. “It kind of gets tough, but we think choosing Dallas was the best choice for me and my career.

“I think I’m still working on that well-rounded game. I want to be able to be a good defensive forward (by) trying to work on faceoffs, which I’ve tried to work on a lot over these past couple of years and then just continue to work on the offensive side of it. I want to be able to be relied on as an all-around player. Someone who can perform offensively, but be trusted defensively.”

It’s been four years since Kero has left his hometown and the highs and lows of playing at the professional level can be testing for any player, young or old but Kero works hard to stay positive.

“The biggest thing is you’ve got to learn to handle the ups and downs of professional hockey,” said Kero. “You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. You’re very excited when your up in the NHL, and if you get sent back down, it can be too easy to get disappointed or upset with where you’re at.

“It’s a process. You’ve got to make sure you’re continuing to work every day and try to get back to where you want to be. The ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, so you want to be able to keep a positive attitude and do everything you can to get back there.”

Kero has learned a lot from his experience of bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL.

“You want to stick up there for as long as you can, but if you get sent down, you have to belive in yourself and trust that you can do it.” he said. “Teams watch how you act when you get sent down just as much as they do your on-ice performance. Usually, if you keep a good attitude, you get rewarded.”