By Adam Green
Photos: Brant Clinard
Arizona Rubber Magazinewww.ArizonaRubber.com
It may be only be weeks after the Phoenix Coyotes’ season came to a close, but this hockey lifer just can’t seem to stay away from the ice.
A 16-year NHL veteran with a pair of Stanley Cup rings to boot, it would be understandable if Ulf Samuelsson, now an associate coach on Wayne Gretzky’s staff, simply needed a break from teaching the nuances of the game to one of the NHL’s youngest rosters.
And although Samuelsson, a native of Sweden who played more than 20 professional seasons worldwide, is already back at the rink imparting his wisdom on another group of youngsters, it’s likely you won’t see any of these prospects putting on a Coyotes sweater as soon as next season.
Coaching young hockey players is practically a year-round job for Samuelsson, who goes from directing the young prospects in the Coyotes system to coaching his four children – Philip, Henrik, Victoria and Adam – each top-flight players in their own right.
“I’ve been involved in coaching many of them, and every time I have an opportunity I’ll go on the ice to help them with drills and stuff,” he said.
The elder Samuelsson works with all of his kids, practicing everything from one-timers to getting roughed up on the ice.
Samuelsson said the kids were never pressured into taking up hockey, but that he isn’t surprised that they gravitated to the sport.
“When you grow up in a hockey house with a hockey environment, and you see that your father and your mom having fun with it, and your older brothers, it’s an easy thing to try,” Ulf said. ‘Nothing Given to Me’
|Phillip Samuelsson |
Not only have Samuelsson’s kids tried hockey, but its safe to say they’ve excelled at it. Philip, the oldest of the group at 16, has been one of the top players for the P.F. Chang’s Midget U16 team and looks to possibly have a professional career on the horizon.
“He was drafted by Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League and Chicago Steel in the USHL,” Ulf said. “He wants to try and stay in the game as long as he can and see what he can do.”
And though he comes from good-hockey lineage (Ulf’s wife, Jeanette, played as well), Philip knows that he has his work cut out for him if he wants to go pro.
“Obviously I’m working hard at it,” he said. “I know that nothing is given to me, even though I have the last name.” What’s In a Name?
That last name - Samuelsson - certainly conjures up some pretty vivid images among even the most pedestrian hockey fans.
Known for an aggressive style during his long NHL career, Samuelsson’s reputation wasn’t always the most flattering – like when he was voted the fourth dirtiest player in all of professional sports during a 2002 ESPN fan poll, nearly two years after he retired.
But for Samuelsson, it’s all about his kids making a name for themselves despite the letters on the back of their jerseys. Luckily, he said, his children have, more or less, been able to do just that.
“We had a few trips up to Boston when my two older sons were playing there, and they would get into it a little bit and you’d hear some parents acting up a little bit,” he said. “But overall it hasn’t been bad.”
That’s not to say nobody has made any comparisons.
“They play somewhat tough, too, so it is what it is,” Jeanette said. Living the Life
Ulf said that although he and his wife never pushed the kids to play hockey, if they ever get serious about the game he would make sure they knew what it took to succeed.
“I’m just trying to teach him what is required to stay in the race,” he said.
Philip certainly appreciates his dad’s help.
“We are grateful that he is here and helps us every day because otherwise, I don’t know what I would be without him,” he said.
“I think we’ve all been kind of brainwashed; that’s what their life has been, hockey,” Jeanette said. “One kept doing it, and they just keep going, all of them.” No Rivalry Here
One of the reasons it works for this family, the parents say, is because every one of the kids supports each other; there is no jealousy whenever one has success.
“They’re all very supportive of each other,” Jeanette said. “(Seven-year-old) Adam was the only one that made it to the playoffs, and they won, and they were all there in the morning cheering him on.”
And though there is the standard competition among siblings, in the end each just wants to be the best hockey player they can be.
“I just want to follow in the steps of my older brother,” said 14-year-old Henrik, who hones his skills playing for the DYHA Firebirds. “He’s developed a lot in the game, and if I can just follow his steps I think I’ll go far.”
Of course, Jeanette admits that it doesn’t hurt, in terms of parenting logistics, that all four of her kids enjoy hockey enough to keep that as the family’s primary recreational activity.
“They all enjoy watching the game, which is easier if they are into the same sport rather than shuttle somewhere else,” she said. “They are all rink rats.”
That includes Victoria, the lone girl amongst a trio of brothers, who looks at her family as a great help in improving her game.
“Yeah, it’s competition, but I have more people to teach me what I’m doing wrong so I can get better,” she said. Finding the Right Sport
Even with her family lineage, playing hockey wasn’t always a given for Victoria, 11.
“She tried all kinds of sports – gymnastics, softball, swimming and pretty much everything,” Ulf said. “She wanted to try hockey, and we moved to Connecticut and they had an all-girls hockey team, the Northern Lights, so she tried it, she liked it, and she’s been sticking with it for five years now.”
|Victoria & Adam Samuelsson |
Victoria, now with the Arizona Selects program of the Arizona Girls Youth Hockey Association, said that having the rest of her family play makes the game more fun for her.
“Everyone in my family has played it, and I didn’t like soccer and tennis,” she said of choosing hockey. Enjoying the Ride
For being the youngest - and smallest - Samuelsson, Adam doesn’t back down on the ice. Just like good old dad, he prefers the physical nature of the game.
“I like hockey because you can check and all that stuff,” said Adam, who rounds out the family’s spread amongst Valley youth organizations as part of the Coyotes Amateur Hockey Association.
Adam did say that one advantage he has of being the youngest is that he can hit everyone else, but they can’t hit him on the ice.
And in the end, no matter how far their kids advance in the sport, both Ulf and Jeanette just want their kids to enjoy every minute of it, and they want to make sure they enjoy the ride themselves.
Ulf said that parents should not worry about their kid going pro or being the next prodigy, but rather just enjoy these times.
“You’re missing a lot of opportunities to enjoy the time you’re spending with your children and not worried about what prep school they’re going to go to or if they’re going to make it to college,” he said. “Just enjoy every day of it, because sooner or later they’re going to be out of the house and you won’t have that opportunity.”