Aside from being a towering 6'5, Erich Kuhnhackl doesn't stand out too much from the rest of the New York Islanders fathers on the team's annual dads and mentors road trip.
He sits in the stands of the practice rinks, cheers in the press box and swaps stories with the other dads on the trip, albeit with a German accent. But Kuhnhackl, father of Isles forward Tom Kuhnhackl, isn't any ordinary hockey dad.
Let's let Fussen, Germany native Thomas Greiss properly introduce him.
"He's like the Wayne Gretzky of Germany," Greiss said. "Best hockey player of his generation pretty much."
That's not an exaggeration either. Kuhnhackl was voted the country's "Ice Hockey Player of the Century" in 2000. He played professionally from 1968-89, winning four German championships and appeared in three Olympic Games (1972, 76, 84) winning a bronze medal with West Germany in 1976.
Additionally, Kuhnhackl appeared in 10 World Championships, was inducted in the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1997 and set German league records with 83 goals and 155 points in 48 games in the 1979-80 Bundesliga season.
"I don't even know how many goals and how many points, but I think he averaged a point-per-period in his career," Tom Kuhnhackl said. "He won all kinds of titles in Germany and Switzerland, so it's obviously very special to have him as a dad."
Kuhnhackl said his father was the reason he wanted to play hockey over football (European football), which Erich said is the first, second and third most popular sports in their home country. Tom couldn't have picked a better teacher or hockey mentor than his father growing up in Landshut, Germany.
"He means literally everything to me," Kuhnhackl said. "When I was small he taught me everything about hockey, he always supported me and travelled to road games and gave me advice and everything."
Erich gave Tom advice when he asked for it and they shot pucks together on the street and in the basement, breaking the occasional window if a puck missed the net or clipped the crossbar.
"My parents had to fix a lot of windows down there," Kuhnhackl joked.
An accomplished father like Erich casts a shadow much bigger than his 6'5 frame. Tom acknowledged that there are pros and cons to having a national figure as a father, but he has carved out his own hockey path in the NHL. While Erich flirted with the prospect of joining the NHL in 1979 (he ultimately chose to stay in Europe) Tom won a pair of Stanley Cups and brought the Cup home to Landshut.
"Tom's dream was always to play in the National Hockey League," Erich Kuhnhackl said with a sense of fatherly pride. "When your son plays in the best league in the world and wins the Cup, twice, it was unbelievable."
Erich said Landshut is a hockey town and even Tom acknowledged that he and his dad get asked for the occasional photo or autograph. The Kuhnhackl's are a hockey family and Erich, 68, still plays in a weekly game over in Germany and he and the 1976 German Olympic team play charity games, using the money to help families in need pay for hockey equipment.
However, the Islanders dad's trip and a chance to spend some time with his son, is worth skipping a pickup game.
"Hockey is my life," Erich said. "And when you're here at the rink and see the guys on the ice and you see your son play in the best league in the world, it's absolutely incredible."