It was Anthony Stewart, the oldest of Norman and Susan Stewart's seven children, who felt like he needed to push younger brother Chris to the ice and away from the gridiron, even though Chris excelled in football. It was Chris Stewart, a multitalented athlete growing up, who made the choice of walking away from the ice when he was 14. Anthony guided his little brother toward what turned out to be a career choice when Chris was just 16.
"He was a natural athlete," Anthony said of Chris. "He was just a little heavy and was playing football. He had a couple offers for collegiate football. But I watched a pickup game of his and he had really good hands and he was actually really fast.
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Nine years later, here they are: Anthony and Chris Stewart, of Jamaican and Irish heritage, who lost their mother five years ago to a heart attack, both playing in the NHL. They'll be adversaries when the puck drops Friday night, hitting an NHL ice surface together for the first time when Anthony's Carolina Hurricanes visit Chris' St. Louis Blues on Friday night at Scottrade Center.
They have faced one another previously in the minor leagues and also played together there, but there were two previous opportunities for the brothers to square off in the NHL that never materialized. Chris, 23, was in Colorado when Anthony, 26, was a healthy scratch in Florida. The Avalanche played Anthony's Atlanta Thrashers last season, but the matchup never occurred because Chris broke his hand in a fight the previous game at Minnesota.
"The hockey gods didn't want us playing against each other," Anthony said. "It's exciting to go out there and see some of the good things he's doing firsthand. The main thing is getting two points, but it's exciting nonetheless."
"I'm excited," he said. "I felt like it's been a long time and a long time overdue. We went for dinner (Wednesday) night, and I'm sure we'll go for dinner again tonight. I look forward to tomorrow.
"Hopefully nothing happens to one of us today. We'll get out there tomorrow."
Nobody could have predicted that one Stewart brother, let alone two, would make it to the NHL. Their parents had a lot to do with it, considering Norman Stewart migrated from his native Jamaica in 1974 to Montreal in search of a better life. Living in Scarborough, Ont., in a particularly tough neighborhood, Norman Stewart introduced his sons to hockey. He didn't want the boys going down the wrong path.
Not only did Norman Stewart find a better life, but he found one that included a love for hockey.
"It's a big day for our family. They're going to be watching," Anthony said of the first meeting between the Stewart brothers. "They're not going to make it in, but they're definitely excited and the buddies back home are texting us asking if we're going to fight. We'll be fighting on the score sheet. That's probably about it."
The brothers are working on getting a visa for their father to get him into the United States, but for now, a couch and television set will have to do.
"If you know my dad, he's comfortable at home in front of a TV," Chris said. "It's going to feel good either way, but I'm sure he'd want to be here in person. We've got a rematch in Carolina later on in the year. Maybe he'll make it to that one.
"He loves the game. He watches every game. I'm sure he'll feel like a kid on Christmas watching tomorrow."
Chris has the better numbers of the two power forwards, with 69 goals and 138 points in 198 career games in his fourth season. Anthony has 20 goals and 53 points in 191 career games in this, his sixth season. But going into their matchup, all Chris can talk about is the push he got from his big brother.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be where I am today," Chris said. "He obviously set the bar high for the footsteps to follow in the family. Just watching him growing up and learning that power forward game firsthand, he's the one I learned it from."
And make no mistake: Anthony is a proud big brother.
"From seeing him where he was five or six years ago to now, it's exciting to see where he'll be in another four or five years because he's scratching the surface on his potential," Anthony said. "It won't be surprising if he scores 40 goals (and becomes) a point a game player."
Both Stewart brothers are frequent users of Twitter. Expect some friendly brotherly chirping between now and game time.
"Maybe a little Twitter battle going on," Anthony said. "We'll see where it goes."
Said Chris, "I'm sure he'll spark something up on Twitter, but that's not me."
The brothers remain close and talk on a regular basis -- but once the puck drops Friday night, it's no holds barred.
Both were posed with the following question: your brother has the puck going through the neutral zone and you have him lined up, what happens?
Chris said, "I'll take his head off," while Anthony fired back, "I hit him on his (behind). Quote unquote."
Both were joking but agreed that once the puck drops, it's game on.
"There's not going to be any lost feelings," Chris said. "It doesn't matter when it comes to game days. We've just got to play."
"You're not going to try and hurt him or anything like that, but you've got a job to do and you finish your check," he said. "Me being the big brother, I've sort of got to tease him a bit, get him going, get under his skin a bit."
It's not a rarity for brothers to be playing in the NHL at the same time, but for the Stewart brothers, both of whom both first-round picks, they'll cherish the moment when they finally step onto the big stage together for the first time.
"Being first-rounders going in the draft and having that big day, it's definitely an accomplishment and we're definitely proud," Anthony said. "We're not taking it for granted."