Kero making the most of his chance with Chicago Blackhawks

When you think about some of the world's most stressful jobs, doctor, firefighter, police officer and airline pilot certainly qualify.

Not too far behind might be the professional athlete who always seems to be sitting on the roster bubble. One bad game, period or turnover may earn you a dreaded phone call that results in a demotion to the minors.

That's the life Tanner Kero - along with wife Taylor and their nearly two-month-old son, Maev - is living as the Blackhawks rookie forward tries to hang onto a roster spot he has held since being called up from Rockford on Dec. 22.

"You want to feel like you deserve to be here and don't want to be walking on eggshells the whole time," said Kero, who scored his first goal of the season Tuesday during a 4-3 OT win over Detroit. "You want to be comfortable with your game, trust your game and just take it day by day. … Work hard, hope you can contribute and do as much as you can to stay."

Kero, who is the second of 10 children and hails from Hancock, Michigan, has excelled as the third-line center since Marcus Kruger was injured Dec. 30. He also has been fantastic filling in for Kruger on the top penalty-killing unit.

"We certainly like guys not only taking advantage of opportunities but looking like they want more," said coach Joel Quenneville. "You want him out there in defensive zone situations, and offensively he's got some game as well. We'll see how it all sorts out, but he's certainly helping himself."

Kero signed a two-year deal on April 2, 2015 after playing four years at Michigan Tech. He played 17 games with the Hawks last season, but failed to make the team out of training camp and started this season with the IceHogs.

Kero registered his first assist on Ryan Hartman's "hip-check" goal against Nashville on Sunday. The play started with Kero finding a wide-open Richard Panik in front of the net.

Then came Tuesday's goal in which Kero displayed some veteran smarts and quick thinking after spotting a rebound near his feet in front of the net. Instead of just shooting, Kero gave Detroit's Ryan Sproul a little shove to clear some space, then wristed a shot past Peter Mrazek to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead late in the second period.

"I've been trying to focus on being good on defense, but to get that one (Tuesday) felt pretty good," said Kero, who has played in nine games since his call-up.

Just like last season, the 24-year-old understands his tenuous spot, especially with Kruger set to return in about a week, and 21-year-old Tyler Motte and 20-year-old Nick Schmaltz working on their games with the IceHogs.

Being a new dad could add to Kero's roster-bubble stress, but he said Taylor is good about letting him get plenty of rest on game days.

"It's a little different," Kero said. "But it's nice. When you go back after you're at the rink, you see your wife and baby. You kind of forget about hockey a little bit and focus on that. … It's something to look forward to every day."

Tanner and Taylor have been high school sweethearts since their sophomore year, and they were married in 2015. She has seen the ups and downs of his career, all the way back to a freshman year at Michigan Tech when he struggled and doubted whether his pro dreams would come true.

Now, they're both happy that a second chance has come with the Hawks - no matter how long it lasts.

"You definitely have to be flexible. That's what this lifestyle calls for," Taylor said. "We just take things day by day.

"We're grateful and hope for the best, and hopefully this opportunity lasts a lot longer."

Switching it up

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Hartman's hat trick a real winner

Panarin's goal against Preds not to be forgotten

Hjalmarsson just keeps scoring

Keith wins it for Chicago Blackhawks in OT

A surprised Toews to join 3 Hawks at All-Star Game

Chicago Blackhawks rookie Tanner Kero, left, has a lot of support at home with his wife Taylor and son Maev, who joined him at the NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo courtesy Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks' Ryan Hartman, center, celebrates his goal with Tanner Kero (67) and Niklas Hjalmarsson, during a game against Buffalo on Jan. 5 in Chicago. Associated Press
Chicago Blackhawks' Tanner Kero (67) battles with Carolina Hurricanes' Derek Ryan (33) and Brett Pesce (22) during a game on Dec. 30 in Raleigh, N.C. Associated Press
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