Tanner Kelly, a 3.75-star recruit, recently committed to Michigan State. The 15-year-old, who has great hands and can find open space, grew up playing youth hockey in California but moved to Michigan at a young age to play for Little Ceasars Bantam. He earned a B in our 2002 Michigan Bantam Fest.
Neutral Zone caught up with Kelly to chat about his experience in California, why he moved to Michigan and how he chose the Spartans:
Neutral Zone: When and how did you start playing hockey?
TK: I started playing hockey when I was about three years old. My parents took me out on the ice to skate and I just fell in love with the game from day one. My dad ended up taking me to a few more hockey clinics and I [was] just instantly hooked.
NZ: What was your earliest memory of playing hockey?
TK: My earliest memory of playing hockey had to be winning my first championship. I was about five years old and I just remember it was such a good feeling and since then I have always had a strong passion for winning.
NZ: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen during a game?
TK: The strangest thing I have ever seen during a game was during the state playoffs a couple years ago, when at the end of the game we had a full team brawl at center ice. Everybody jumped the boards and the parents were all screaming but the fight played out for a while until finally the referees got it under control.
NZ: Tell us more about your experience playing hockey while growing up in California.
TK: Growing up playing hockey was much different than what most kids experience. My first team, the La Jolla Jaguars, only had about 50 kids in the whole organization. There were not enough kids to make a team for my age group, so I had to play up with kids as much as four years older than me until I was about eight years old. As I got older, I had to look for better competition, so I played for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks. It was about an hour and a half drive a couple days a week and it was quite hard with school and getting home around 10 to 11 every night. It’s just a completely different atmosphere than here in Michigan now.
NZ: The state has been viewed as a non-traditional market, but how have you seen its hockey culture grow over the past few years?
TK: Yes I have seen the state grow a lot over the last couple of years. Many more kids are now being introduced to hockey and I think it’s good to grow the sport of hockey all across the US. There have been many more kids coming out of California the past couple years then I remember from when I was younger.
NZ: How did you make the decision to move to Michigan and join Little Caesars? Were you considering any other options at the time?
TK: I chose to make the decision to play for Little Caesars and move to Michigan because I was very excited to play for Little Caesars. I had heard a lot about how great of an organization it was, and Kris Draper is a phenomenal coach. I always hated playing Little Caesars because they were always such a hard team to play against.
NZ: Tell us about your NCAA recruiting process. What other schools had reached out and where did you go on visits?
TK: Penn State, Miami of Ohio, Denver, Boston University, and Michigan State were all schools that reached out to me but I only visited Miami, Penn State, and Michigan State.
NZ: What made you decide to commit to Michigan State? What went into that decision for you and your family to know that was the right place?
TK: The most important thing about me choosing Michigan State was the coach, Danton Cole. I’m really excited to play for him and I’m looking forward to the day that comes.
NZ: What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced in hockey?
TK: The toughest challenge that I have faced in hockey was breaking my collarbone. I was out for eight weeks and it was a really hard time for me. I missed being on the ice for that long and that’s when it really made me learn how much I love this sport.
NZ: What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you in hockey?
TK: The best piece of advice I have heard from a lot of people is to just be patient. If you’re good enough, people will find you. You just have to stay patient.
NZ: Who’s been the biggest influence in your hockey career?
TK: My dad has been the biggest influence on my hockey career. He has only missed a few games from the time I was about five years old until now. He has always supported me and always pushes me to get better every day. He can be hard on me sometimes but I always know it’s for the right reasons.
Photo credit: Hickling Images