It's a family affair
Maybe more than any other sport, hockey is all about the ties that bind.
Family, it seems, is only strengthened by those early morning trips to the ice rink for practice in the dead of a freezing January. Twelve-hour car rides to far-away tournaments in the family station wagon appear the perfect conduit to solidify the family fabric. Marathon games of pickup hockey on the neighborhood pond or backyard rink are seemingly just the tonic to foster brotherly love.
Those activities, as much as anything else, explain the prevalence of family connections that have graced the NHL throughout its existence.
Great hockey families like the Howes, the Hulls, the Espositos, the Patricks, the Stastnys, the Richards, the Mullens, the Bures and the McNabs are among a countless legacy of clans that have seen one, two, or sometimes three, generations of family make a huge impact on the game.
Presently, the game is blessed with as many family connections as at anytime in its rich history. Everywhere you look in today's NHL, someone has a family connection to someone else.
There in New York City is Pavel Bure, one of the most exciting stars in the game today. Across the Mississippi River sits younger brother Valerie, recently traded from Florida to the St. Louis Blues. In New Jersey, father Vladimir is a fitness consultant with the New Jersey Devils.
In 1999-00, Pavel and Valeri combined for 93 goals to set the NHL record for most goals in a season by a pair of brothers.
In the swamps of New Jersey sits defenseman Scott Niedermayer, a fixture on the Devils' defense for the last decade. His younger brother Rob, a first-round pick like Scott, now plays wing for Anaheim after a trade from Calgary last month.
Behind the bench in Chicago is Brian Sutter, one of six hockey-playing brothers to grace the NHL. Brother Darryl coaches Calgary. Duane is an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers. Rich scouts for the Minnesota Wild. Ron, the last of the brothers to play in the NHL, is now a scout with the Flames, and Brent is a top junior coach with Red Deer in the Western Hockey League.
In Vancouver, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin are reliable contributors on a Canucks team that has been among the Western Conference elite all season.
Talk to any of those players about their good fortune and the aforementioned early morning excursions, road trips and pond hockey are all mentioned relatively early on in any conversation.
Scoring legend Phil Esposito loves to regale people with tales of his childhood with younger brother Tony, who went on to be a star goaltender with Chicago. Both are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but as kids they could not be pulled off the pond near their house in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
According to Phil, he and his brother did not even take off their skates as young kids to eat dinner during the winter months. Their mother, Frances, laid newspapers on the floor to catch the melting ice running off their blades.