Jay and I would play mini sticks in the living room of our house, and we just had a small house. Our mother had inherited some Royal Doulton China - expensive and beautiful pieces - and they were in a certain hutch. We would take a coffee table and put two pillows on the sides and make a net. We would basically play NHL games. He was always the goalie for some reason, and I was always the forward. We would literally take time to draft teams. We'd always make six teams and we would draft players from the NHL.
A lot of the guys who are around us coaching now are the guys we were drafting as kids. I'll always tell him, Charlie Huddy was obviously one of the best Oilers ever, and he was a guy who would get drafted on our teams. This was in the early and mid 80s we'd do this. The moral of the story is our mom would get pretty mad at us because we'd rack up the Royal Doulton China and try to piece it back together and not get in trouble. One of my earliest memories of hockey was us doing that together.
ur family is a hockey family, in the truest Canadian definition of the term."
The scouting report on the three Woodcroft brothers varies with their differing personalities.
Craig - the oldest - is intense, serious and detail oriented. Todd, the middle brother, is extremely intelligent and quick witted. Jay is funny and also highly intelligent, as well as meticulous. They all share several traits - as is the case with most siblings - including the well-deserved label of being hard working. The latter is what the Woodcroft family is known for.
Perhaps more than anything, all three share their passion for hockey the most.
Before Jay Woodcroft began his journey to becoming assistant coach of the Edmonton Oilers, he was the youngest of three brothers. His mother, Jem, was a nurse, and his father, Frank, worked in sales.
Those are the kind of blue-collar upbringings that help shape someone into a smart, hard-working, goals-driven individual. They helped shape the man - and coach - Woodcroft has become today.
His older brothers played a mammoth role in that as well.
Feeding off the support of one another, and their parents, all three have gone on to have successful careers in the sport that became their passion years ago.
"All three boys grew up loving the sport," said Jay. "The values of hard work and discipline were passed down from our parents. They saw we all had a passion to play the game of hockey and they afforded us the opportunity to do so.
"These are the values and opportunities that my wife Jackie and I would like to pass on to our children."
Growing up in Toronto - or Canada, for that matter - it's hard not to, at the very least, enjoy hockey. The Woodcroft brothers took it a step forward and decided to live it.
"We all loved the game and everything about it," said Craig. "We were committed from as early an age as we can remember. Hockey was our life, and we loved everything about it… The training, the practices, the successes the failures, this was all normal year-round routine in the Woodcroft household."
Jay Woodcroft walks Oilers players through a situation at practice. Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers
Jay marvels at how his parents, both working full-time, were able to not only support but keep up with three young boys involved in competitive sports.
"They set a great example," he said.
"None of our hockey upbringing would have been possible without both of our parents undying commitment to provide us with the opportunities we all had in the sport," added Craig. "They sacrificed so much of their own lives to be able to provide us an opportunity to do something that they knew was so important to us. I know, we are all very grateful for that."
In addition to the demanding schedule and commitment required of hockey parenthood, mom and dad would have to deal with the three competitive boys and their fiery driveway hockey games. Many fights ensued over disputed goals - undoubtedly due to the lack of video replay.
Even through all the inevitable sibling bickering, fewer things are more sacred to the Woodcroft brothers than family and hockey.
Where the eldest goes the others follow. The same can be said for so many families. The Woodcroft clan is no different. The eldest of the three, Craig, paved the way for the other two. Seven years Jay's senior, and four years older than Todd, Craig began his hockey career first and the others fell into line, shadowing their brother.
"Both Todd and Jay were dragged along to a lot of my hockey games and practices growing up," said Craig. "They had the opportunity to share in a lot of my successes as a player and the setbacks."
Craig acknowledges his younger brothers were able to learn and grow from watching him do it all first - a certain benefit to their eventual careers.
"As you know, sport is a microcosm for life, and you can learn an awful lot of life lessons through sports in a finite amount of time," said Craig.
Speaking specifically of Jay, Craig recognizes the impact his trailblazing career had on his youngest brother, in particular.
"Jay was able to gain a tremendous amount of life experience through being attached to my career, but also through his own playing career. We were a very tight hockey family growing up, and we all relied on each other and everyone's thoughts to help us navigate through the hockey world."
Craig was the consensus best athlete of the three. He went on to a collegiate career at Colgate University, where he racked up the offensive numbers, including 26 goals during the 1990-91 season. He was taken in the seventh round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks.
While he'd never play in the NHL, Craig did take a jaunt around Europe in multiple leagues before joining the coaching ranks.
Jay parlayed his playing time at the University of Alabama-Huntsville into a six year minor league/European professional career.
Todd didn't have the playing career of his older or younger brother, but he kept close to the game in other ways - until eventually carving out his own career as a scout, then coach.
Todd Woodcroft poses for a photo during a Jets practice. Photo by Ryan Dittrick/Winnipeg Jets
"Craig and Jay were both really good players and were fortunate to have long playing careers and they'd both been over in Europe," Todd said. "I wasn't as good as them, so for me it was the ability to stay inside the game and try to always be a student and learn."
Craig is the intense one, as described by both brothers. Todd is the cerebral one. Jay is more of a hybrid of the two, but also the funny one - if you ask his older siblings.
"I think probably, what most people don't know about Jay is how funny he is," said Todd. "He's got a great sense of humour. I know he's a strict professional and keeps things pretty serious all the time, but he's actually a pretty funny guy. I know when I'm having a tough day or something is going on or I need someone to make me laugh, I can call him and he keeps me laughing.
"Personality wise, he's a serious guy, he's cerebral, very smart academically, he's a valedictorian and all that kind of good stuff. He's a real sharp guy. Even though he's my younger brother I look up to him in a lot of ways."
"Craig was the best player out of the three boys," said Jay. "He's a very intense individual that brings a work ethic and passion that are second to none. Todd is a Mensa candidate IQ level. He's that detailed and that smart in lots of areas of his life, not just hockey. He's able to break the game down into segments and situations that few others can."
These qualities the Woodcroft brothers possess have aided them in not only staying in the game after their playing careers ended, but thriving in it.
After graduating up through the ranks of the Toronto youth hockey system, the Woodcroft brothers went on to university, because their parents instilled in them the value of a good education.
They also worked summer jobs, because you work for what you earn - again, that Woodcroft upbringing was influential in forging that belief.
Craig Woodcroft with Adler Mannheim. Photo by Jan-Philipp Burmann/Getty Images
"For us, a lot of our beginnings were in a hockey school trying to pass on our passion for the game to the next generation of player," said Jay. "We did that for a long time in the Toronto area, and then my oldest brother, Craig, started a company for hockey instruction in the US and we helped him out doing that for a good number of years. A lot of the stuff we learned in those years of teaching young players are things we continue to use today with NHL-calibre players - small area drills and that type of thing to work on skill development."
Time spent teaching up young players at hockey schools helped fuel the already smouldering passion for the game in each of the Woodcroft brothers.
"That's where our passion for the game lies," said Jay. "None of us made the NHL as a full-time player but we all love the game and have had good opportunities to explore a career in coaching."
As a coach, Craig Woodcroft has almost exclusively held positions overseas. After a year as the Director of Hockey Operations for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL, he moved to Europe to work for Alder Mannheim in the German professional league (DEL) as an assistant coach for two seasons. He has since been the Head Coach for HC Dinamo Minsk in the KHL and now Genève-Servette HC in the top tier of Swiss hockey. He has also served with Team Belarus internationally as an assistant, and holds the same position with Team Canada at the upcoming Olympic Games.
Todd Woodcroft (left) and Jay Woodcroft (right) pose for a photo at the 2016 Heritage Classic in Winnipeg. Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Todd Woodcroft has enjoyed a wide variety of hockey jobs. The 45-year-old became the Video Coach of the Minnesota Wild in 2000, and stayed there until 2005. In 2004, Todd joined Team Canada's staff as an assistant coach at the World Championship, where they won gold in the Czech Republic. He has also represented Team Belarus at the World Championship, as well as Team Sweden.
During the 2005-06 season, Todd joined the Washington Capitals as their Video Coach, before transitioning to Amateur Scout the next season. He returned to Minnesota for one season as a Professional Scout, before then beginning a four-year stint with Los Angeles as a European Scout, winning a Stanley Cup in 2012.
He was the Calgary Flames Director of Scouting for two years and stayed with the organization for a third as a Pro Scout. He got back into NHL coaching last season as Assistant Coach of the Winnipeg Jets, where he remains today.
Todd won the 2017 IIHF World Championship with Team Sweden's staff.
The middle of the brothers is the connection between Jay and another coach by the name of Todd: Todd McLellan.
While Todd Woodcroft was toiling away with the Minnesota Wild system, McLellan was developing the club's prospects down on the farm as head coach of the Houston Aeros in the American Hockey League.
"At that point, I learned a lot about the Woodcroft family and the work ethic they had and the attention to detail they brought to the rink every day," said McLellan.
The youngest Woodcroft's coaching career is tied to McLellan. The two have been side-by-side for quite some time.
When McLellan was hired in Detroit as an assistant under Mike Babcock, he discovered Todd's younger brother, Jay, would be joining the staff as Video Coach.
"I immediately felt comfortable working with him and around him because of that (previous experience with the Woodcrofts)," said McLellan. "He proved it to our staff day one. We were a new group, we were ready to go at training camp, and in large part it had to do with his prep and his ability to get us organized."
Together, McLellan, Jay and the Red Wings of Detroit won a Stanley Cup in 2008.
As with most talented assistants, it came time for McLellan to venture out on his own to run a team. Enough trust was built between Jay and McLellan that the latter would ask the former to join him in a new adventure.
Jay Woodcroft takes notes behind the Oilers bench. Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers
"The three years in Detroit we built a real good relationship, we built a trust factor I think is very important when you talk about a coaching staff," said McLellan. "He left with me to go to San Jose with the promise I would spend time with him, developing him as a coach."
That McLellan-Woodcroft bond is a strong one, similar to that of family.
"Jay has been beside somebody for all these years, since 2008, for almost 10 years to be beside a guy like Todd McLellan who is not only a mentor and teaching him every single day, but also a friend too and has give Jay a voice and given Jay the ability to coach these guys and to help them," said Todd Woodcroft.
"First and foremost, he's my mentor," said Jay. "He's somebody I've worked alongside in the NHL for I think our 13th year together. I get an education every day: a master class in human relations, in leadership, in preparation.
"Todd is very purposeful and thoughtful, he's meticulous in his planning. He has an unbelievable ability to get his point across. He's someone I learn from every day and I appreciate the opportunity to work with him. I've been very fortunate to work with two of the top head coaches in the NHL in Todd and Mike Babcock. I've worked with a lot of good people along the way as well."
McLellan has become the mentor now, but in the past it was Jay's brothers who led the way.
Todd Woodcroft says, from a young age, his younger brother showed early signs of what it takes to be a coach at the highest level. First and foremost, Todd says Jay has an ability to absorb what he sees on the ice, then recall that information swiftly and accurately - relaying it to both the head coach and the players.
"If you would say to Jay, 'hey, remember that last game we were playing and there was that one neutral zone counter and we were coming through the middle and picked up the weak-side guy?' he'd be able to say oh yeah, it was this guy here and it was (Oscar) Klefbom and he found Leon (Draisaitl) in the middle, or he saw Connor (McDavid) on the weak side coming with speed," said Todd. "He's able to do that.
"I think most good coaches can do that. But it's his ability in-game to have answers. When you are responsible for information to players you need to be right. If a player asks you a question, especially in-game, you need to be right."
To be able to see the game, process it and articulate an answer right away is something Jay picked up early - and you can bet his brothers were involved.
"I've always prided myself on being a student of the game," said Jay. "Watching my brothers play, at their various levels, I wanted to know why things happened a certain way. I watched a lot of NHL hockey, even as a player.
Jay Woodcroft coaches Oilers players at practice. Photo by Chris Wescott/Edmonton Oilers
"I was a hockey junkie."
While being able to process the game and relate the information is key to being a good coach in the League, player relations is also near the top of the list.
"I think that when you're able to recall certain situations or moments, it helps you relate to people," said Jay. "At the end of the day, hockey is a relationship game. Your ability to communicate and relate to the players is paramount. The better you do that, the more success you have in getting your point across. For me, the ability to recall things or to have a quick memory aids me in being able to connect with players."
Jay credits the influence of his parents for his ability to build relationships and relate to players.
"Our parents taught us how important it is to build relationships in all aspects of our lives," he said. "The ability to relate and get your point of view across is a practice and learned skill. It was something that was made important in our lives at a very early age. I think understanding the people you deal with on a day-to-day basis are different. They all have different points of view, they all have different starting points for reflection. Understanding that's the first step, finding ways to connect with them on common ground is the second step and the third step for me is to let the players know you care about them first."
His brother Todd is thoroughly impressed with how his younger sibling is able to bridge generations and reach different kinds of players at different points in their career. Jay's time with Detroit is a perfect example of that.
Todd says Jay had the ability to connect with Henrik Zetterberg or Nicklas Lidstrom or Pavel Datsyuk, but he could also coach the younger or older groups.
"It's a strength and he brought it with him to San Jose and I know he had an excellent relationship with the Marleaus and Thorntons, but also the young players coming up," said Todd.
"He's young enough to have the ability to connect with the new age of players. Players are different than they were 10 years ago."
Craig saw some of the same characteristics in his younger brother years ago, when the siblings worked together at Northern Edge Hockey Academy.
"Jay showed me very early on that he was going to be an amazing coach," said Craig. "He has that special ability to connect with the individual he is working with, because he cares. He therefore is able to establish a rapport quickly with the player he is coaching and he is then able to quickly make an impact.
"A very unique feature with Jay as a coach is that not only does he understand the way the game needs to be played at the highest level and the many structure pieces inside the game. He knows how to make individuals better and successful inside the structure of the team. That is a unique skill set that he has, and one that he has been developing since he was 16 years old."
Jay forged a love of coaching under the influence of Mark Reeds in the Toronto system. Reeds went on to coach for the Ottawa Senators before passing away at the age of 55, following a battle with cancer.
"He was someone who made me look at the game differently. I enjoyed talking the game with him."
But the passion for coaching really took off at Northern Edge, which Craig founded.
"Jay was taking on more and more responsibilities each year and he became highly involved in all aspects of the business, from the growth strategies, to the financing, the marketing and most importantly the development of the product, which was our on-ice curriculum-making players better," said Craig. "Jay could handle all of this because he was wise beyond his years and he was very comfortable leading people."
Coaching has taken the brothers many places, but perhaps the most memorable was the 2015 IIHF World Championship. It's a memory all three can share.The Woodcroft triangle of coaches converged upon the Czech Republic. It is one of Jay's fondest memories in the sport to date.
Jay was on Team Canada's staff, while his brothers were there in a different capacity.
"My two brothers were there on two separate coaching staffs of two different countries," said Woodcroft. "Todd was with Switzerland, and Craig was with Belarus. That opportunity to have three boys from the same family, all coaching at the highest level, representing three great countries was a real pleasure for me. The best part from my end of things was Team Canada beat both Switzerland and Belarus. We went on to win the gold medal. That was a special time for myself, my two brothers and my parents as well."
That was a moment in which the Woodcroft boys - who all started at together and then went their separate ways - came together again. No matter where their careers take them from here, the Woodcrofts know for certain they have two men they can lean on whenever they're in need.
They're truly three brothers united in hockey. Jay put it best when he said, "just think of where the game of hockey has taken all of us."
And think of where the game will continue to take them.