William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles Sawyer and Simon Seidl, who were adopted from the Democratic Republic of Congo, moved to Minnesota and dream of playing in the NHL.
It took Sawyer and Simon Seidl a while to get the hang of Minnesota winters when their adopted parents brought them home from an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo a decade ago.
"It was at least a 100-degree swing for them because it was so warm in Africa and so cold here," mother Molly Seidl said of her sons, who were 3 and 5 years old at the time. "It was a big adjustment -- they didn't understand about the coats and the jackets and boots. I kept having to remind them and they kept running outside with bare feet, so I had to run outside chasing them with boots and jackets trying to put them on."
Sawyer and Simon, now teenagers, have adjusted to Minnesota's snowy winters just fine. They've also gotten the hang of hockey and are up-and-comers who aspire to be the NHL's first players from the Congo, a Central Africa country of more than 86 million people.
"I love hockey," said Simon, a 13-year-old defenseman. "I figure if I work hard enough, hopefully I can make it to the big leagues."
Bobby Dustin, who coached the boys in the Stillwater Area Hockey Association and was a forward for the University of Minnesota from 1992-93 to 1995-96, said they show the potential to excel further in the game. Sawyer and Simon have regularly played on the top teams as first-year players in their age group, Dustin said.
Each has played in tournaments nationwide and overseas; Simon has won several most valuable player awards.
"I think both of them have the capability of making it to [NCAA] Division I, and possibly further," Dustin said. "Simon is head and shoulders, with his speed and strength, way above everybody at his age group. Sawyer is the same thing; he's got speed and strength that is uncharacteristic."
The Seidls caught the attention of NBC's "Today" show, which did a feature on the brothers in October. The segment prompted New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban to tweet "Hope I'm still playing when Sawyer & Simon make it to the show! Molly & Steven Seidl…The world needs more people like you! "
"It's definitely great for the game, a great story. Everybody watches the 'Today' show, and they did a really good job with them," Subban said after a Devils practice Thursday. "We're going to see if we can do something with them, but I definitely think it's a great story."
Getting the attention of their idol, whose life-size Fathead action decal is on a wall in the Seidl home, thrilled the brothers.
"It was very cool to have someone who I looked up to since I was little say something like that," said Sawyer, a 15-year-old forward.
The Seidls said they have also received their share of unwelcome attention, including occasional racial slurs aimed at the boys on the ice and accusations by some opposing teams and parents that they are older and playing below their age group, which Dustin said is false.
"The word in the stands and the words from other coaches are 'Those kids aren't this age because they're so much bigger, stronger and faster,'" Dustin said. "There are other kids who are white that are just as big, but they might not be as fast or good, and nothing gets said. Because these guys are black and they're that good, it gets brought up."
Steve Seidl said he has stopped sitting in the stands because it bothers him to hear some people say derogatory things Simon (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) and Sawyer (5-foot-10, 150 pounds) or raise questions about their birth certificates not knowing that he's their father.
"That's demeaning their accomplishments," said their father, who started the boys in in skating and hockey as an outlet for their boundless energy. "It's kind of opened my eyes having two boys of color playing in a, so to speak, 'white man's sport.'"
The brothers said they handle being subjected to racist taunts differently. Simon said opponents call him the N-word when "we're usually winning, and I just don't care."
"I just laugh at it and say 'Scoreboard,'" he said.
Sawyer said he can't take that approach.
"Winning or losing, I just don't think they have the right to say that word," Sawyer said.
USA Hockey has increased its effort to halt racial and derogatory slurs being uttered at games after it continued to receive what it called "disturbing reports of incidents" in several states.
On Oct. 30, the nation's hockey governing body stiffened the punishment for racial or derogatory slurs of any kind from a game misconduct to a match penalty, which carries a five-minute game penalty, disqualification from the game in which it occurs and suspension until a USA Hockey affiliate or junior league has conducted a hearing to review the incident.
The Seidls said that even though it's frustrating for their sons to occasionally endure derogatory slurs or have their ages questioned, it's not enough for them to quit hockey.
"I love the sport too much," Sawyer said. "Them saying those kinds of things, it's not going to stop me from playing. All it really does is motivate me to keep going."