The short drive from the hotel to the International Skating Center in Simsbury, Conn., offered Kevin Hatcher the perfect opportunity to give his son Cole a pep talk before his game against prep school powerhouse Shattuck St. Mary’s.
During the ride dad drew from his 17 years of NHL experience to offer his 18-year-old son some advice that would serve him well once the puck dropped. As he turned into the rink parking lot Hatcher realized it was all for naught as Cole was wearing his headphones and didn’t hear a word.
If Hatcher figured that his son had tuned him out, he wouldn’t be entirely correct. Cole has long heeded the words of his Hall of Fame dad, as well as those of his uncle, Derian.
He’d be crazy not to.
“My dad taught me how to play hockey and how to play the right way,” said Cole, a defenseman with the Team Comcast 18 & Under squad. “I play the way I do because that’s the way he taught me to play.”
The apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or in this case of the 2011 USA Hockey National Championships, far from the hockey rink.
A quick glance through tournament programs from Hackensack to San Jose turned up familiar names such as Tkachuk, Brodeur, Shero and Samuelsson competing for youth hockey’s Holy Grail, with dad following the action from the bench or the bleachers.
“That’s everybody’s favorite thing to do, watch your child play hockey and hang out at the rink, drink a little coffee and talk to other parents and catch up with hockey people,” said long-time NHL player and coach Craig MacTavish, who was in Simsbury watching his son Sean skating with the Shattuck St. Mary’s 16 & Under squad.
For MacTavish, who parlayed a 19-year NHL career into a successful coaching career, watching his son on the ice may be more nerve wracking than leading the charge behind an NHL bench.
“There are plenty of moments in an NHL season that are pretty high pressure situations, but generally, given the magnitude of the game, you’re a little more rattled watching your kid play,” he said while milling about the lobby with other hockey parents.
Joining MacTavish on the Shattuck squad was another name familiar to even the most casual hockey fan. Sporting the same uniform number and paint scheme on his mask as his future Hall of Fame father, Anthony Brodeur was doing his part to lead his team to another National title.
After seeing their playoff hopes dashed by a loss to the Montreal Canadiens the day before, the elder Brodeur made the three-hour drive to see Sunday’s championship game even though Anthony was on the bench as Honeybaked rallied to edge Shattuck, 3-2.
Still the drive was well worth it for those few hours of catching up with his son.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Brodeur said during an interview with Fast Hockey. “Your parents took care of you when you were young and playing hockey, so when you become a parent it’s a lot of fun to be able to do the same.”
The grind of an 82-game regular season schedule doesn’t provide Brodeur many opportunities to watch his son play live, but the wonders of modern technology allow the two to stay in touch and provide dad with opportunities to offer a few pointers along the way.
“My dad watches the games online and tells me how I did and what I did right and wrong, things like that,” said Anthony, a 16-year-old sophomore at Shattuck. “I don’t normally get on the ice with him that much anymore because I’m out [in Faribault, Minn.], but he watches and sees what’s going on.”
For most dads, it’s a fine line between passing on what they’ve learned during their illustrious careers and leaving the lessons to the coaching staffs.
“I critique him a little bit, but not too much,” said Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero, whose son Chris attended the 16 & Under tournament with his Pittsburgh Hornets team but couldn’t play due to the lingering effects of a concussion.
“My father was the same way with me. He kind of let me find my way. He always believed that the coach is the guy who should be telling you these things. And I’m pretty much the same way.”
For the Hatcher brothers, spending time in Simsbury was also a chance to catch up for one of the first times since they were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in October. In addition to catching up they talked about their own memories of competing at Nationals.
“We both played in the Nationals growing up,” said Derian, who is now involved in player development with the Philadelphia Flyers. “Kevin won in the Midgets and I won it in Peewees, so it’s nice that our sons are able to go through the same process.”
Some would think that wearing the Hatcher, MacTavish or Brodeur name on the backs of their jerseys would be akin to a big target, but all four players say they want to be judged by their own accomplishments on the ice, not those of their famous fathers.
“Sometimes I get that feeling (that people try to compare him to his dad), but I try not to think about it,” the younger Brodeur said. “Personally, I don’t even think about it when I’m on the ice or even when I’m off the ice. Hopefully people don’t say anything because sometimes it gets to me, but I try to block it out.”
Still, the benefits of having a famous hockey dad far outweigh any negatives. And while the rest of world knows these current and former players as superstars by their exploits on the ice, it’s what they have done in the privacy of their own homes that has inspired the next generation of hockey playing sons.
“I grew up watching him play, so I definitely wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Sean MacTavish said.
“He’s out at Shattuck a lot when he’s out scouting so he watches me as much as he can. I definitely take his advice. He knows what he’s talking about so it’s a good opportunity for me.”
That’s probably a good idea, since dad has never been shy by offering his opinions.
“He doesn’t have to come to me for advice,” said the elder MacTavish with a grin. “I give it to him willingly.”