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Following in Footsteps on Ice

by Steve Werier / Florida Panthers

It is the winter of 1995. In a living room in the Minneapolis suburb of Blaine, a former Division III college hockey player grabs a pair of old, double-bladed hockey skates, and puts them on the small feet of his two-and-a-half year old son. The boy will stumble around the living room on those unfamiliar skates, until he grows tired. When he crawls into bed that night, the boy will reach over and grab his favorite sleeping companion: a plastic hockey stick, given to him by his dad. And when the father arrives home one day with the new family pet dog, the son will not hesitate to name it in honor of his favorite game. He will call it “Puck”.

A few months later, in September, 1995, an ocean away in the Finnish city of Tampere, a star player for Tappara in the SM-liiga professional hockey league will, with his wife, welcome a newborn son into the world. The son will be named after the father. The father will continue playing for Tappara for another decade, and on many nights his son will be there watching and admiring him from the stands. In 2004, after a 21-year career that will have taken him from the former Soviet Union (for whom he would compete in three World Championships), to Italy, and to Finland, he will retire. After so long, the absence of his last name in Tappara’s lineup will seem strange. But the absence will only be temporary.

The boy from Blaine would outgrow his first pair of skates and living room rink and go on to star on

Nick Bjugstad and his father.

 teams across the state, achieving the dual honors of being named “Mr. Hockey” (as Minnesota’s most outstanding high school hockey player) and suiting up for the NCAA Division I Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team. At 18, he would hear his name called during the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft, and step up to the stage to don a Florida Panthers jersey with his and his father’s surname on the back. It would read “BJUGSTAD”.

In 2011, a short seven years after Aleskander Barkov Sr. retired from pro hockey in Finland, his son, Aleksander Barkov Jr., would join that same Tappara senior men’s squad at the young age of 16. Sasha Barkov would spend two seasons with Tappara, before being selected second overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Like Father, Like Son.

On June 27 and 28, the 2014 NHL Draft will take place in Philadelphia, and a new class of future stars will take the stage. While these players have yet to be initiated into the NHL fraternity, many of the names on the back of those freshly minted “#14” jerseys will already be familiar to hockey fans.

Sam Reinhart. William Nylander. Kasperi Kapanen. Ryan MacInnis. Dominic Turgeon. Daniel Audette. Ryan Donato. Brendan Lemieux. Josh Wesley.

Each of these prospects is the son of a former NHL player. In the case of Sam Reinhart (third in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters), he will be joining not only his father, Paul, but also his two older brothers, Max (Calgary Flames) and Griffin (NY Islanders), as family members who were drafted by NHL clubs.

Erik Gudbranson and his father pose together at the World Championships in Minsk, Belarus. 

The 2014 Draft will continue a trend of sons following in their fathers’ footsteps, as last year’s draft class included the sons of former NHL players Tie Domi (Max), Martin Brodeur (Anthony), Warren Rychel (Kerby), Sean Burke (Brendan) and Andrew Cassels (Cole). Each of these prospects is the son of a former NHL player.

If and when each of this year’s group draft-eligible candidates have their names called in Philadelphia, it will be the culmination of an 18 year-long collaborative project between father and son, each of whom will have reached the highest level of professional competition.

The pinnacle of father-son accomplishment in pro hockey can be found in Toronto, where the Hockey Hall of Fame has inducted three father-son pairings in the Player category: Gordie and Mark Howe (’72 and 2011), Bobby and Brett Hull (’83 and 2009), and the first pair to join each other in the HHOF, Lester and Lynn Patrick (’47 and ’80).

This Sunday is Father's Day

For many of us, the bonds between father and son, or father and daughter, are solidified through a love for the game of hockey. By watching, learning and playing the sport together, we form generational bonds as we are put through the ringer of emotions that can range from excitement, to agony, to ecstasy, to hope, and to pride….sometimes all within the course of a single game. 

And while our own shared familial experiences may not include being drafted by an NHL team, that is not to say that those experiences, when we look back on them, are any less meaningful:
That night the home team was losing late in the game, and you wanted to leave, but your dad looked at you and said “What have I always taught you about never giving up?” So you stayed. And they won. And you learned.

The moment you realized how low the ceiling in your childhood basement really was, and how much your dad must have had to crouch down all those years to practice with you downstairs.

The first time you arrived at the arena doors and were able to say “Dad, look, I know how to find our seats by myself!”

And all those games, from shinny with friends, to house league contests on up, when your dad was there, no matter how early it was, or how busy he was.

Our shared hockey memories on the ice, in the seats, and in front of the radio and TV, are, if we are lucky, some of our most cherished moments.

It is for that reason why six of the most beautiful words will always be:

“Hey Dad, remember that game when -----?”

And it is why, this Father’s Day, from the Florida Panthers family to yours, we say:

Thanks, Dad.

In Coral Springs, Florida, at the Panthers IceDen, three men sit amongst the legion of fathers wearing hoodies in the cold, cheering on their sons. In addition to wearing hoodies, these fathers each wear the badge of membership in the NHL brotherhood. Krys Barch, Tomas Kopecky and retired, former Florida Panthers forward, Marco Sturm will sit and watch their children skate, as their love for the game is passed on to a new generation. For each of them, and the fathers and sons around them, new memories will be made. New stories. New drafts.

What is your favorite hockey moment with your dad? Tell us on twitter @FlaPanthers

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