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Someday Gabe Kea will enter a costume store and rent a gorilla costume off the rack. Then he’ll get behind the wheel of his silver 2007 Toyota Corolla and spend the next several hours driving around St. Louis, going through red lights and waving at the flashing traffic cameras.
Kea usually opens with that one to get the crowd going. Tonight he's at the Funny Bone, a St. Louis comedy club where he often performs stand-up when he's in town. Inside, as the smoke hangs heavy in the air and sticks to the low ceiling, Kea whips through his 30-minute opening act decked out in jeans and a faded Quebec Nordiques T-shirt.
He draws his materials from everyday occurrences, like the faces people make when they’re caught going through red lights. He also reaches back and pulls out stories from his own childhood.
It’s comedic fodder drawn from the distant memories and personal anecdotes that tend to elicit big laughs with strangers he can barely see through the smoky haze. What he doesn’t bring up are the hockey memorabilia of his past — the trading cards, the game-used sticks, the historic action photos — because they are parts of his life that are off limits to comedy.
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The posts are ringing from the other side of the rink. A lanky figure dressed in a windbreaker and antique skates with rusty metal blades is rocketing pucks at a high school goalie in the indoor rink.
This is not how he usually shoots when he plays basement hockey with Gabe. And when he skates and stickhandles around the ice, playing keep-away with the puck, it's a side of his father that Gabe has never seen before.
Still, when it comes to hockey, this is how Gabe remembers his dad; not the guy who played nine seasons in the NHL.
Ed Kea is a name known only to the most hardcore hockey fan. He was the sort of player who was solid yet unspectacular; a defensive defenseman. He was the kind of player who quietly did his job without calling a lot of attention to himself.
The number of games he played tell the story. There are the 583 games played under the bright NHL lights in Atlanta and St. Louis. And there are the countless others played in minor league arenas with the Tulsa Oilers, Omaha Knights and St. Petersburg Suns.
Along the way, there are stories of backyard rinks, great players frequenting the house for dinners and holidays. But there is another story that veers from those happy hockey memories.
In 1983, while playing a game for the St. Louis Blues’ farm team — the Salt Lake Golden Eagles — a team desperate for the help that a big NHLer could offer in the playoffs, Ed Kea was checked behind the net, and his head hit the ice.
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Gabe, who was 3 at the time of the accident, does not remember his father as an NHLer. What he knows of his dad’s career has been gleaned from stacks of memorabilia he’s collected over the years and the stories he hears from just about everyone who knew his father.
He remembers him as a father and a good man who went out of his way to help others. He remembers winter mornings when his dad cleared the snow for his neighbors and would help others with difficult domestic tasks. “Ed Jobs” they called them. These are the memories that Gabe carries close to his heart.
When he thinks about the perceptions that others have of his father – Ed's former teammates, fans who cheered for him and kids who admired him – Gabe says it’s not much different from his own recollections because Ed Kea, the kind and warm-hearted guy people saw and knew from afar, was the same guy that his family loved at home.
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Gabe loved the game, too. He made rinks in the foyer of the family home when he was a toddler, worked on his shot in the basement, broke windows and put countless dents and black marks on the fridge in the garage. And even though he loved the game, he knew he wasn’t going to pursue it as his dad had.
“From when I was a little kid, I always wanted to play in the NHL, just like any kid who plays hockey,” Gabe recalls. “I didn’t really view it as my goal, it wasn’t what I was moving toward. I enjoyed playing, but I probably enjoyed it most when I was in my early 20s and realized, ‘I’m going to play hockey for the rest of my life.’ And I have been.”
Instead – though he continues to play in men’s leagues in his adopted hometown of Cincinnati – he followed his passion for comedy.
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These days, the story of his professional life can be found in 100,000 miles notched on the odometer, each of which is tangible testament to his other passion. Like any prospect pursuing his dream of making it to the big leagues, Gabe logs countless miles on the road and pays his dues in dimly lit comedy clubs throughout the Midwest in hopes that he too will one day make it to “The Show.”
On every mile along the journey there sits a familiar image tacked to the dashboard of his car. It’s a hockey card of his dad, its colors bleached by the Midwestern sun. And odd as might sound, it’s because of that card, because of the man and the traits he exuded, that Gabe feels that comedy is where he belongs.
“Because my dad had such an interesting job,” Gabe says, “I felt that I could kind of take the same sort of risks that he took. And similar to my dad, being undrafted, not a top-tier prospect, but still pursuing his goal of becoming an NHL player. … And just like he was in the ECHL and some teams down in Florida, so am I going around the Midwest doing comedy.”