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Oh brother

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Zack Kassian just wanted to help.

Mike Kassian couldn’t help but share the story about what ensued.

The year was 1997 and the Kassian men, dad Mike and son Mike Jr., went to work building a garage for the family home in Kingsville, Ontario. This was a big undertaking and as such, the front lawn looked like a yard sale scattered with tools and two-by-fours.

This makeshift construction zone was definitely a hardhat area, but what’s really the worse that could happen?

Six-year-old Zack watched in awe as his dad and older brother sawed this and nailed that; wanting to be as close to the action as possible, he sat stoic at the bottom of a ladder his dad was using.

“He sat there forever,” laughed brother Mike. “There was a hammer on top of the ladder and sure enough it slid down and he took the hammer right in the forehead. But he didn’t go down at all, he just did a couple of laps around the garage screaming MY HEAD MY HEAD and he sat back down where he was. That was pretty entertaining.”

In case you missed the ending: Kassian sat back down at the bottom of the ladder.

“That story sums him up,” added Mike. “He’s always been feisty, rebellious and challenging. He’s willing to do what it takes to be part of the team.”

That has never been clearer than this season for the now 24-year-old Kassian, who has been in and out of the Canucks line-up because of injury and as a healthy scratch as Vancouver faces line-up challenges with injuries and matchups.

Kassian has played only 33 of 58 games in this his fourth season with the Canucks; he’s admittedly been frustrated at times, but has taken everything in stride and when he’s gotten a chance to play, especially of late, he’s thrived recording seven points (5-2-7) in his last seven appearances.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward recorded his first career two-goal game Friday night in New Jersey.

Kassian began playing his best hockey of the season earlier this month scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then following it up with back-to-back goals against the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

All three goals were scored with his brother Mike in the stands. Joining Zack on the two-game Father’s Trip, Mike wanted to take in an extra game to see as much of his brother as possible.

Mike has always been there for Zack, more than a normal brother would because their father can’t be.

When Zack was eight his dad Mike died from a heart attack, leaving behind his wife and four children; Zack has two older sisters and Mike Jr., is 11 years his senior.

Zack doesn’t remember much from when his father passed, just that Mike stepped in at age 19 and has since been a father figure to him. He’s who Zack turns to when guidance is needed and this year the pair has been especially close.

“We talk everyday,” said Zack, smiling with pride. “He’s always there if I need someone to talk to and he’s very supportive, but he’s there to give me a kick in the ass when I need it too.

”He always reminds me there are much tougher things in life than playing hockey and not to take it for granted; sometimes that can get overshadowed by hockey and things like that, but it’s just a game. At the end of the day I want to come here, work hard and whatever happens, happens. He just says to keep battling.”

Mike doesn’t take any credit for the man Zack has become, he said they boast the same qualities, which they got from their dad. Still, Mike has helped shape Zack whether he’ll admit it or not.

The Kassian sisters played travel basketball growing up, so it was Mike driving Zack to tournaments on weekends; he said he always put Zack’s best interests first and that he wouldn’t change anything about how their relationship has played out.

Slowly but surely the brothers are acting more and more like siblings, which Mike enjoys.

“In an ideal world I’d love to be a brother so we could share brother stories. As a parent your kids don’t tell you things, they tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. But he tells me more and more as he gets older.”

That’s a good thing because if there’s one thing Mike does exceptionally well, it’s tell stories about Zack.

“I remember one time he took my mom’s car, he was maybe 13 or 14-years-old,” laughed Mike. “He drove to a buddy’s house and when he came back, unfortunately my mom was there greeting him and asking what he was doing. So instead of throwing it in park and going in and taking his punishment, he figured he was already in trouble so he put it in reverse and went back to his buddy’s house.”

There were quite a few of these stories to be heard on the Canucks recent Father’s Trip.

“He was a kid in a candy store with all that,” joked Zack. “He couldn’t get over the plane and the meals and he said he definitely gained a couple of pounds on the trip.”

Not only are Mike’s pants tighter, so is this bond between brothers.

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