Number 32 on River Ridge is well known throughout the league for his slick stick handling abilities, explosive skating, and his ability to both successfully pass or get a shot off in scenarios most players would elect to dump and change. With 40 points in 18 games played while dressing for the River Ridge Knights this season, I had the opportunity to interview Kevin Dionne as this year’s first Senior Spotlight.
“River Ridge #32, Kevin Dionne” may be an identification that has tormented the league the last four seasons, but to both break the ice at the start of the interview, no pun intended, and to provide proof that Kevin is more than just a point producing machine- I like to start the interview off with rapid response back and forth dialogue I like to call “Quick Release Questions” (trademark pending).
Quick Release Questions:
What’s the best pregame meal and worst pregame meal? “Spaghetti and yogurt for best and for worst I’d have to say steak. It’s too heavy”
You’re on a 2 on 1 breakaway with Brady Burke. What is the one defenseman in the world you wish wasn’t in between you and the net? “Aidan Besedic from Seminole- he just always has my number because we play on the same travel team”
Do you take lunch to school or buy it? “I’m a big snacker, I take dual enrollment classes so I’m not on my high school campus too much anymore.”
Do you prefer reading the book or watching the movie? “Definitely watching the movie”
Scoring the game winning goal, or making the cross-ice pass that led to it? “Scoring the goal”
What is your favorite NHL Team? “Boston Bruins. No apology”
What NHL player would you take a private lesson from if you could choose anyone? “Patrick Kane”
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in a hockey game? “Dangling at the blue line. I’ve been yelled at just a few times for that especially when it doesn’t work out. I’ve heard my dad’s voice once or twice before for that one.”
What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you in a hockey game? “Scoring a tying goal with two seconds left to force overtime. This happened a little over a month ago in Houston with the Ice Storm at an NAPHL showcase against the Chicago Bruins. Down 3-2 and the shot came from the point, rebound came out to me, went to my backhand, was patient and waited for the goalie to slide across the crease and put the puck away.”
Kevin’s hockey skill is a product of numerous coaches and organizations in the Tampa Bay community, and it first started out at Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar when he was seven years old, “I first got into hockey thanks to my dad. I did learn to skate and some hockey skills camps, and then I met my first real coach, Trevor Fahey. He taught me the fundamentals of the game and got me to a level that I was able to play for my first travel team. I played with the Junior Lightning out of Oldsmar for two seasons, and we didn’t win a single game. We went 0 for 18 both seasons, and when Advent Health Center Ice opened up in Wesley Chapel, it was time for a change.” River Ridge calls Advent Health Center Ice their home rink so it’s likely the Dionne household decided to join a travel organization that was a little closer of a drive to home, even though Kevin’s first two seasons prove that hockey might be a game of patience, “I joined the new Crunch team at U14, and it was a big step for me. U14 is when hitting is introduced, and I was a pretty small kid, so it was difficult for me. I played defense both seasons I was with the Crunch, and I had my first ever high scoring season my second year. I physically grew a lot between my first and second U14 season, and I was named Assistant Captain to the team, and went on to score 40 points.”
For most hockey players that have been playing from a young age and have the financial resources to be a member of a travel organization, the second year of U14 creates a fork in the road. At the end of eighth grade, players are old enough to play their first season of spring high school hockey. Spring is often a trial period for varsity organizations to judge incoming players and test the development of returning players. It’s often said to be a long-term tryout for the formal season which begins at the end of summer. This first spring season begins the next four years of hockey in which a travel player must balance two hockey teams and two different styles of play depending on the day of the week, and jersey they’re wearing. They wear both their school colors and travel colors every week from the end of summer through at least January of the next year and must do the mental gymnastics required of playing against different skill levels, ages, sand sizes all while playing with different teammates and sometimes at different positions. Kevin decided to make the most of this time, “I played Spring high school hockey as an 8th grader and that helped me adjust to the craziness that is high school. By the time Freshman year came, I was ready for it. River Ridge had a really competitive team, and I knew a lot of my team from previous years in rec leagues or travel. The team helped me adjust and set me up often and it gave me huge confidence for my travel games. My freshman year of high school, I decided to join a new travel team as well by making the jump to AA and trying out for the new Clearwater Ice Storm U16 team. I had a great season and we made states and felt like I made a big improvement after being back at forward for the first time in a few seasons. I’ve been with the Ice Storm ever since and have dealt with the ups and downs of producing a lot of points one season and kids catching up to me the next, but now I’m in U18AA and just glad to finish travel with a competitive team.”
I asked Kevin about how he would describe River Ridge the last four years and how he has fit into the equation as the highest scoring forward on the team in the four years since he joined the team, “My freshman year we were really solid, and I was happy to get the minutes I did. I had a lot of teammates that were willing to get the puck to me, and I’ll always be appreciate of the leadership Nico Santoyo and Dylan Hultberg showed being the seniors in the locker room, and Matthew Babcock was only a year ahead of me, but became an instrumental part of me being successful the next few seasons. My sophomore year came, and I lead River Ridge in points, and was top fifteen in points in the league. River Ridge was a really young and inexperienced team last year as I was a Junior, but my now linemate Brady Burke joined the team so we tried to be leaders on the ice and in the locker room and it translated to our travel team having success too. Our team this year lost a bit of talent from graduation, but our younger players are really good and will build River Ridge back to where it should be. Being a senior is cool looking down at the Freshman and where they are, but it’s sad to see it already ending. I want to finish my senior year by putting points on the scoresheet so I can leave my mark.”
Kevin was talking about leaving his mark, so I asked him to slow down and think about what he’s experienced the last four years. He had some memories to share, “Over the past few years I have made a lot of memories with my teammates during games and practices but one that stands out the most is when we were playing Land O’Lakes a few weeks back with 11 skaters and our emergency goalie got hurt. We had to put 6 skaters on the ice at a time and Erik Laflame dropped back and unbelievably made countless saves in front of the net which later costs us a penalty. Even though we lost this game, we were still able to put up 8 or 9 goals on the opposing team. Erik is a Lacrosse goalie, but we didn’t know it at the time, he blocked a shot from the point, went to the corner, went behind the net, he’s hugging the post and made another save, scrum happened in front of the net for like ten seconds, but the puck never went in. Erik never let it in and ended up getting a penalty and Land O had to take a timeout because we brought it within one goal. We didn’t even have three lines and it was the time of my life. This game was in my senior year, and it really goes to show that you need to appreciate every game while it lasts because in hockey all roads lead to beer league. It’s what I would tell any young player in the league: The biggest advice I have is to never take practices or games for granted. You never know which one will lead to making memories, and everyone ages out eventually so enjoy every practice, game, and team that you’re on.”
Outside of hockey, Kevin picked up a new hobby or two when Covid struck. Some people learned how to bake bread, others binged all those TV series we never had time for, and Kevin took to the city streets and learned to skateboard, “. I started skateboarding during quarantine. I like to street skate around downtown Tampa. It’s super fun at night whether it’s getting a good view on top of the parking garages and looking at the city. Skating helps with balance in hockey, even though it’s not really the same movement or anything. It was difficult getting used to it since you’re sideways on a board, but I had some friends that already skated, so they helped me learn pretty quickly. It’s helped with my stance and my stride though because now I’m staying lower on my skates in a game and improving there. If I’m not skating or spending time with friends, I’m usually either in a rink or in the gym. I’m always focused on bettering myself, and I’m in the gym every day.” I asked Kevin to expand on bettering himself and wanted to know what goals he had that he was preparing himself for, “I want to go to college, and I want to keep playing hockey. I have to get my SAT scores up a little more, but if I can’t I’ll go to one of the local community colleges and transfer into USF. I just want to keep my options open as best as I can. I have a sister in Massachusetts, so I’ve also thought about getting an apartment up by her and playing hockey for a bit. I don’t mind playing it by ear, I’m putting feelers out for schools all over, but I’m not stressed out about it. I just want to go to school and play hockey. I don’t have a dream school; I’d just be really happy with USF. I have Bright Futures if I can get my SAT scores up so I’m completely happy staying in state for school.
To end every spotlight article, the interview ends with asking two questions: Who inspires you, and who/what are you most grateful for? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a more complete answer than the following, “My parents inspire me every time I wake up. Every time I step on the ice, I do it for not just myself, but also for them. I am a competitive person so every time someone has a better shot or better skills than me, it inspires me to push myself harder and to be better than I was before and to raise the level of competition. I’m most grateful to my parents for sure, for playing hockey for ten years now, it’s come with a big price tag. They’ve made a lot of sacrifices for me and even changed jobs to make sure I’ve had the ability to play hockey and the rest of the family has their needs met. I’m a huge part of their life with just the financial costs alone, and they’ve done the best they can to push me as far as I can go, and a lot of people don’t get that so it pushes me to try to be the best hockey player I can be. I know they do the most they can to help me, so it pushes me to try to be that absolute best version of myself I can be.”