SAN JOSE -- On the eve of one of the biggest days in his son's life, Roger Sherwood's head was spinning. He and his wife Yuko were packed and ready for their flight that would take them from Columbus, Ohio to San Jose, California the following morning. Neither a work trip nor a vacation, Roger and Yuko were making the trip to Northern California to witness an achievement of a lifetime - the NHL debut of their son, Kiefer.
"It really hasn't sunk in," Roger said on Tuesday, brimming with emotion and pride. "We are so proud of Kiefer. He's been so focused. He's been working so hard both on the ice and off the ice. Mentally and physically. I know he's looking forward to this opportunity. I believe he's truly ready for the challenge."
From being an undrafted college hockey player to earning a spot on the Ducks' opening night roster, 23-year-old Kiefer was the feel-good story all throughout training camp and preseason. His tenacious style of play was displayed early on in rookie camp when the Columbus native shined in the Las Vegas rookie tournament against his peers. He elevated his game further when competing against his teammates during training camp. And when it came time to making an impact against NHL-caliber players in the preseason, Kiefer took his game to new heights.
He was featured in this story, posted a little more than a week ago - well-before he knew he would be making the trip to San Jose for the season opener. In it, Kiefer described how much it would mean to him to one day play in the NHL.
"I thought about it every day in the summer," he said. "It's a goal I set for myself. It's a challenge I'm very serious about pursuing. That was my goal and my mentality coming into camp. It fueled me in the summer. To make the opening night roster is a goal, but hopefully if or when that happens, it'll be a great honor. It'll be pretty emotional. It's something I've been working towards all my life."
In 2007, young Kiefer (right) and brother Kole (left) got autographs and posed for a photo with Ryan Getzlaf after running into him at a rink in New York City, where the boys participated in a national youth competition [picture courtesy of the Sherwood family].
Roger says he often thinks back to when he and his wife were in two separate parts of the country on a weekly basis attending their sons' hockey games. [Kiefer's younger brother Kole is a prospect in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization].
"Every single weekend, my wife and I would travel," Roger says. "Every single weekend, we would probably be away from each other. I would be with one son in one part of the country, and she would be with the other son in a different part of the country. Every single weekend, we'd drive, fly and travel. We'd spend so much time with the kids, but in separate places. To see it starting to come true, it's a dream come true."
The Sherwood brothers fell in love with the game at an early age. Roger recalls taking Kiefer to the ice rink when he was just four years old. Kiefer and Kole [now 21] destroyed the kitchen in the Sherwood household with their mini sticks. Eventually, Roger built them an inline rink. "Every single day before school, every single day after school, and the weekends they didn't travel, they were always down there shooting," Roger says. "I got them the best net I could. The amount of time those two spent down there was unreal."
Kiefer's passion for the game wasn't just a fad. He played amateur youth hockey with the Ohio Blue Jackets on their U16 and U18 squads, and then parts of three seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League before playing three years of college hockey with Miami (Ohio) University. He was serious about his goal of playing in the NHL, and his parents were there, every step of the way.
"As a parent, it's what we do," Roger says. "Every parent should be supporting their child in what their dreams are. If his dream is the NHL, then my wife and I did whatever we could to help him get there. But once he gets there, it's all him, 100 percent. He works hard and he's so focused at what he loves. It's his passion.
"We supported Kiefer," Roger adds. "We got him to the right rink on the right day in the right city. It was a challenge. Once he stepped onto the ice, it was all him. We were completely out of the picture. The support has always been there and always will be, but he really gets all the credit. Not us. He's the one who's working so hard on the ice and off the ice."
He always stayed the course, Rogers says, even during high school when many of his peers were out having a good time and, well, being teenagers. "He's always very focused on something, and it's usually hockey," Roger says. "He eats, sleeps and pretty much drinks hockey. He's quiet, he keeps to himself. He's a great individual. I can't tell you how proud we are of him.
"My wife and I try to keep our kids on the right path. It's very easy in high school to get off that path. Because of his passion for hockey, he's always stayed on that path. We really didn't have to do too much to keep him on it. He kept himself on it. We're very proud of him for everything he has accomplished."
Young Kiefer posing with some hardware he won playing Pee Wee hockey in Columbus [photos courtesy of the Sherwood family].
Roger says one of Kiefer's best qualities is the enjoyment he gets from "making people around him better. Whether he's playing hockey or just around his friends. He's always trying to do better. He's reading, he's learning. I couldn't ask for a better son."
When it came time to signing his first professional contract, Kiefer sought guidance from his parents. "We talked about it as a family," Roger says. "We're a very close family. Timing is everything. The timing was right. The entire situation was right."
Kiefer signed his two-year entry-level contract on March 20, 2018. Four days later, as fate would have it, he made his AHL debut with the San Diego Gulls in his home state against the Cleveland Monsters. He scored that night - the overtime-winning goal with his parents in attendance.
Tonight, parents Roger and Yuko find themselves in the stands once again - in support of their son - like the countless times before.
"I know my wife will have some tears in her eyes," Roger says, fighting back tears of his own. "I'll probably be filming it and trying to contain myself. I'm so proud of him. After 15, 16 years of hoping, wishing and praying about the NHL. Life is kind of like a staircase. You just keep climbing stairs to get to where you want to go. Even though he's about to enter that, there are still more stairs ahead of him. This is just the beginning. It's the beginning of something great that is about to happen."