By Larry Wigge
Kyle Palmieri had one of the coolest dads on the block.
Bruce Palmieri works in construction. When he noticed his oldest son developing into one of the more talented players in the state, he decided to apply his skills by building a backyard rink.
Bruce Palmieri still puts up the ankle-high boards and floods the backyard every winter. The roughly 80 x 40 field of dreams was built outside of Montvale, N.J. on DePiero's Farm, land owned by grandmother's family since 1924.
There Palmieri would work on his skating, shooting, passing and creativity.
"I started playing when I was 5 or 6," Kyle Palmieri said. "When I started to like it and commit to it and play it every day, he saw an opportunity to give himself another hobby during the winter. He takes real good care of it. He takes it seriously."
"We had the lights," Palmieri's eyes began to light up as he described the place where he spent all of his time. "My dad did a great job. It's a pretty cool place.
"I'd go out there before practice, after practice, before school. Any chance I got. I definitely was one of the only kids in New Jersey to have one."
Field of Dreams?
"All through the winter, as long as there was ice, he'd never miss a night out there," recalled Elaine DiPiero. "My bedroom was right next to the back boards, so I'd hear him shoot the puck.
"His mom told him he had to come in at 11, 11:30 so I could sleep."
"That makes for a nice story," says New Jersey Devils G.M. Ray Shero, "but unless you're a good player ..."
Kyle Palmieri worked his way up the ladder from DiPiero Farm to the U.S. Development Program and on to Notre Dame University the 5-11, 195-pound center was chosen by the Anaheim Ducks with a first-round pick, 26th overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
"I'd go out there before practice, after practice, before school," he said. "Any chance I got.
"I definitely was one of the only kids in New Jersey to have one. It was pretty cool. My dad's a builder, so he knew what he was doing. It was a pretty nice thing to have. ... We had the lights. He did a great job. It's still up there now. It's a pretty cool place."
He toiled for five years with the Ducks, scoring 43 goals and 46 assists in 198 games, before being traded to the New Jersey Devils for a second- and third-round draft choice last June.
Palmieri was home in New Jersey -- and he has made the most of the opportunity by scoring 17 goals in 37 games, ahead of his career-high in goals 14 the last two seasons at Anaheim. The 17 goals was the most goals by any traded player other than Buffalo's Ryan O'Reilly.
"I think the outside rink definitely gave me an advantage," Palmieri said. "While other kids had to wait for practice to take shots on real ice, I could just go out in my backyard to take a few. Every time I'm out there I get a little better."
Palmieri remembers nights when his mother, Tammy, would be calling his name to come inside for dinner, for homework, for bed.
"Pretty much every time I go out there she winds up calling me in," Palmieri said of the ice located 100 yards from the house he lives in on the farm. "Depending on what I've got the next day, I could stay out there for three or four hours. Sometimes I go in because it's right behind my grandparents' house -- and they have to go to sleep."
"My strongest assets are my ability to create offense, my strength with or without the puck, my work ethic and my hockey sense," Palmieri said. "I'm not one of the bigger players on the ice, but I'm never intimated by anyone and I'm willing to go into the corners to get the puck. I know I can't control how tall I am, but the one thing I can control is my work ethic."
"Kyle is a dynamic player who plays with a lot of jam," says Notre Dame Coach Jeff Jackson. "He's offensively skilled with excellent hockey instincts and is a fierce competitor. Kyle is one of those players that makes things happen on the ice. He has a great shot and has shown the propensity for scoring big goals at timely points of the game."
He's got good speed and he takes it to the areas he needs to score goals. He's tenacious.
As a youngster, Palmieri tried to pattern his game like James van Riemsdyk, who plays with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"He's a really solid two-way player, really strong out there on the puck and can handle himself physically," van Riemsdyk says. "He definitely made an impression on me."
His biggest claim to fame until this season was one of the outdoors games -- a 3-2 victory for the Ducks against the Devils Christmas Eve in 2013 in which he scored a wraparound goal in goal in addition to having an assist.
"It was a pretty memorable night for me, my family, my friends," Palmieri said. "It was definitely a pretty cool experience for everybody. It didn't have to be storybook in my eyes, but we were lucky enough to get a win."
Playing at home can sometimes be "a little overwhelming."
Two squirt teams from the Ramapo Saints hockey program he grew up playing with were in Canada's capital for a holiday week tournament and attended the Devils' game at Canadian Tire Centre.
"So, there were 35 kids in the postgame passes area to sign autographs for," Palmieri said.
Bruce Palmieri, his father and one of his youth coaches, said he was surprised more teams did not try local players.
"Every game he came back here to play with Anaheim, he did well," Bruce said. "He scored the winning goal against the Rangers, the Devils, the Islanders and the Flyers."
Kyle Palmieri may have started his NHL career with the Ducks ... but he's at home with Devils.
"When you look back on it, having a nice rink in your backyard in New Jersey is something not too many guys get to experience growing up," Palmieri said. "It was just so convenient for me to spend a couple hours at the rink.
"Anything to get me out of doing my homework was an advantage for me."