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Training Camp

Jake Chelios, Keegan Lowe, Josh Wesley aim for NHL

Sons of accomplished defensemen blazing own trails as Hurricanes prospects

by Kurt Dusterberg / Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The ice surface at PNC Arena looks more crowded than usual as a large group weaves through training camp conditioning drills. Many of the names on the Carolina Hurricanes sweaters are familiar; others require a check of the camp roster.

But there are three nameplates that make you wonder if it's Throwback Thursday.

The Hurricanes have a Chelios, a Lowe and a Wesley; each name is familiar to a generation of NHL fans. But these Carolina kids -- Jake, Keegan and Josh -- are the sons of Chris, Kevin and Glen. Like their dads, they are all defensemen.

The three fathers would be a good start on a formidable 1990s blue line. Chris Chelios won the Norris Trophy three times and played for three Stanley Cup-winning teams, once with the Montreal Canadiens and twice with the Detroit Red Wings. Kevin Lowe played on five Cup winners with the Edmonton Oilers and one with the New York Rangers. Glen Wesley played in the Final three times, winning the Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006. Collectively, they played 4,362 regular-season games and another 649 in the playoffs.

"A lot of people are going to compare each of us to our dads, but at the same time, we're completely different human beings," Josh Wesley said. "We have to figure out our own identity out there."

The three fathers, all executives with NHL teams, know that better than anyone. The three sons are likely to start the season with Charlotte of the American Hockey League. The road to the Hurricanes remains long, so the fathers don't meddle. The kids need a dad more than they need a critic.

"No question," Kevin Lowe insists. "It allows for him to be his own player."

The elder Chelios takes the same approach with Jake.

"I quit evaluating him his first year of college," he said. "He's a real coachable kid, I don't think it works having Dad try to help."

Chris and Jake Chelios forged a deeper hockey relationship as players at different ends of their careers. Jake played junior hockey for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League in 2009-10 at the same time his father rounded out his professional career at age 48 with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.

"Obviously, I don't compare myself to him," said Jake, 25. "He's been good about being supportive. He knows so much about the game that sometimes little things bother him, but he has always known that fine line about teaching me."

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As young boys, Jake, Keegan and Josh were like so many kids with dads in the NHL. They hung around the locker room, sometimes skating before practice. But soon enough, that little perk didn't feel quite right.

"As soon as I got to 12 years old, I kind of shied away from being around there because that's when I realized I wanted to be one of those guys," Keegan Lowe, 23, said. "I wanted to be able to experience it when I earned it, and not just hang around. I realized one day that could be me."

Jake Chelios smiled at that recollection, having experienced the same uncomfortable feelings.

"It gets to that point where you're that older kid skating before the practice," he said. "As you get closer to 18 and guys close to your age are playing in the League, you start to float away from the rink a little bit more."

Glen Wesley will have an impact on the futures of all three sons. As Carolina's director of defensemen development, his job is to make them NHL-ready. Carolina drafted Keegan Lowe in the third round (No. 73) of the 2011 NHL Draft and took Josh Wesley in the fourth round (No. 96) in the 2014 draft. Jake Chelios was undrafted after four years at Michigan State. Lowe and Wesley play with a physical edge; Chelios has the offensive smarts to be a power-play quarterback. Glen Wesley believes all three are on track to play in the NHL someday.

"There's a lot of positive things they all do in games and some minor things they need to be tweaking as the game goes along," he said. "You let them digest it, then you come in the next day and you talk about it."

The younger Wesley, 20, has no problem with the arrangement.

"Once he's at the rink, he becomes 'Coach,' " said Josh, who is beginning his professional career this season. "He's obviously my dad, but I look at him as a coach, someone I can learn from. Usually when we're at home, he never brings up anything hockey."

Glen's job duties dictate he will have a hands-on hockey relationship with his son. Trying to walk the line between parent and coach isn't ideal, but he keeps his emotional investment to a minimum.

"Everybody is going to make mistakes, and all of them are very correctable," the elder Wesley said. "But you can't live and die with them playing every shift; otherwise, you end up pulling your hair out."

All three fathers know the odds are against their sons achieving the same level of success they enjoyed, but that's only part of why the kids must blaze their own path.

"It's a different game than when I played because of all the structure and the different types of systems teams play," Chris Chelios said. "As tough as it is to make it now, so many players but only so many jobs, he's really fortunate to be in position to get an opportunity. Hopefully with a little luck and hard work, he makes the most of it."

That's all any of the dads can ask. Kevin Lowe already has witnessed Keegan's NHL debut in 2014-15, a two-game stint with the Hurricanes. The Lowes hope it is just the beginning.

"Obviously there's the drive inside to follow in their footsteps a little bit," Keegan said. "We're lucky enough to have fathers who have done some pretty exceptional things, so I would be happy with a fraction of that. But we all have a little taste of it, and that's what drives us to get there."

Until then, Kevin reminds himself of what he wants most for his son.

"For him to be happy," he said. "I root for him because he's worked so hard. He's earned everything on his own and continues to work hard. He's a determined guy. Most importantly, I want him to be content with what he's done and what he's doing. That's what you wish for all your kids, to be happy with life and feel that they have achieved something."

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