GLENDALE, AZ -- One of the remarkable things about the hockey community is how tight it is, and how many connections you’ll find if you just poke around into personal histories.
On Thursday, as the Buffalo Sabres participated in a morning skate at Jobing.com Arena in preparation for their game against the Phoenix Coyotes, family members looked on from the seats as the annual Parent’s Trip continued.
Speaking to those family members uncovered some interesting links, not just among players, but back to the coach too. Among them there is a shared history of hockey, Canada, and strong family values, along with a connection to some of the original inhabitants of Canada.
A conversation with Cody McCormick’s father, Chris, revealed that the McCormick family knew the Nolan family many years ago -- well before the two were united on a single sheet of ice in the National Hockey League.
“My grandmother’s family was raised on Ted’s reserve, and our reserve -- Batchewana -- is like five miles apart,” the elder McCormick said. “I used to play hockey with Ted’s older brother. We had a team in Garden River. I used to play cards with Ted’s dad, and I knew his mother and brothers.”
Chris McCormick, like Nolan, has First Nations’ blood. He is a descendant of the native inhabitants of what is now known as Canada.
“Chris is a family friend from way back,” Nolan said after Thursday’s morning skate. “When Cody made it, obviously we were all very proud of him making it into the National Hockey League. All of a sudden now I get to coach him, which makes it even more significant, considering growing up with his dad.”
While Chris McCormick didn’t mention it, Nolan added, “His dad is a former chief.”
The respect between the men, dating back many years, is mutual.
“Ted’s a really good guy and you can tell the improvement and the atmosphere with the players since he’s been here,” Chris McCormick said. “The spirit and them wanting to play. He’s brought it out in them.”
Some more conversations with Sabres family members in attendance revealed another connection: John Scott has First Nations blood as well.
“John’s mom is Cree Indian,” said Susan McCabe, Scott’s mother-in-law.
Nolan said he wasn’t aware that Scott had First Nations ancestry.
“I did not know that about John Scott’s mother, but I’ll dig in on that one,” he said. “It’s always good to find out a little bit more, instead of just all the time about X’s and O’s, wins and losses. There are many more stories to be told.”
Nolan added, “Sometimes we concentrate on the wrong things too often. We need to find out some good stories, and where these kids came from; some of the obstacles they had to overcome, battles they had to overcome in order to get here. To me, that’s what this game is all about, it’s about people.”
That’s what makes this trip so special. The players have the ability to spend time with the loved ones who have rooted them on and shaped them into who they are. It’s the people of the past that have molded these boys into men that compete at the highest level of hockey.
Chris McCormick recalled one memory from when Cody was in grade school, and playing community hockey.
“One of his teachers made this announcement to the class: ‘None of you guys will ever make it to the NHL.’ It was a motivator for him.”
There are good experiences and bad, but it’s the people around you who shape you into who you are. You don’t always get a glimpse into that personal history of the players, but it’s there.
McCabe said that John Scott has always been instilled with strong family values.
“He’s very involved. He’s very protective of family,” she said. “He’s a little overwhelmingly protective. It’s nice though because I feel safe. When I’m traveling, it’s nice to have him because no one bothers me. I just feel safe.”
She joked that Scott’s protective instincts could be interesting when his two-year-old daughter one day becomes a teenager.
“When my granddaughter starts dating, he’s going to put on some hockey fight tapes. He’s going to be protective. I feel bad for the guy she’s going to date. He’s protective now, but I can’t imagine.”
Family is what it’s all about.
“Family is very, very important, especially in the athletic world,” Nolan said. “Our families have to be a little bit more understanding. The athletes come home after a bad game; you’ve got to get ready for the next game. The travel, and also the wear and tear on the wives. They’re probably the unsung heroes out of everyone. They’ve got to keep life in order.”
The sacrifices come from the parents too. Chris McCormick recalls when Cody was drafted by the OHL’s Belleville Bulls at age 16.
“My wife and I were really surprised,” McCormick said. “We don’t know anybody there, had never been to Belleville. We’re going to somebody’s house and don’t know the people. And we’re going to drop off this 16-year-old kid. So that was for us, as parents, an experience.”
It ended up working out and put McCormick on the path that eventually led to the National Hockey League.
“My wife and I are really proud that he’s playing in the greatest hockey league in the world,” Chris said of his son. “I’m really glad to see that it hasn’t changed him. He’s still a down-to-earth, fine person.”
Perhaps the best part: “He’s a good father who’s got two children. He’s a really good family man.”