Triple Threat

Tennessee Triplets Are Rockin’ Rocky Top With A Family Brand Of Hockey
Maren Angus

Knoxville, Tenn., is a city full of rich tradition handed down from generation to generation. It’s a place that bleeds orange and white, where 102,000 fans come together on college football Saturdays to sing “Rocky Top” at the top of their lungs, and is the home of Smokey, the country’s most famous Bluetick Coonhound.

It’s also home to the Southeastern Conference’s oldest club hockey team, the University of Tennessee Ice Vols.

A Family Affair

Founded in 1966, the Ice Vols have a history of brothers playing on the same team, but this year features a first. The club has never had triplets on the roster. To top it off, their dad is the coach.

Gage and Lucas Despins joined the Ice Vols two years ago. Now, in their junior year, their brother, Dane, has reunited with them on the ice and their father, Rob, has taken over as head coach.

“When you play something your whole life and you stop, you just want to get back on the ice,” said Dane, a supply chain management major. “I didn’t think I was going to the same college as them when we were in high school. It ended up working out pretty well. We have the whole family on the team now.”

Gage is a center, Lucas plays right wing and Dane is a defenseman. The two forwards have played on the same line their whole career except for one year. And similar to the Sedin twins in Vancouver, Gage and Lucas know where the other one will be on the ice without having to say anything.

“We’ve been playing together for so long, you kind of just have to keep us together,” said Lucas, who is studying mechanical engineering. “A lot of hockey is knowing where the other person is going to be without the puck. That’s why coaches want you to communicate on the ice. Sometimes, we don’t even have to talk and we know where the other will be.”

The three live together in a house off campus and sometimes ride with their dad to practices and games, which is something that is very familiar among the four.

“I never really thought I would be coaching them in college,” Rob said. “I really thought I would just be helping out the UT team. It just kind of worked out. I’ve got a lot of experience on the ice and here I am.”

The boys couldn’t be happier to have their dad coaching them in college. According to Gage, this definitely wasn’t in the plan but it has worked out for the better.

“In Eastern Tennessee it’s hard to come across coaches who actually know hockey and understand the game, and who can actually help a team improve and put lines together that make sense,” said the accounting major. “We are used to playing for him so there isn’t any tension or awkwardness.”

Growing up

After having three girls, the Despins wanted a boy to round out the family. Instead of one, they got three. Gage, Lucas and Dane were born on March 15, 1995 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“The delivery room was chaos,” Rob said. “The first one was born, they put him in my hands then took him away, the next one came and the same thing and again. There were three or four nurses for each one of them. It was interesting.”

As Rob continued his story of the boys’ birth, he said there really wasn’t a plan in naming the boys. He left that up to his wife. She ironically named them in alphabetical order from oldest to youngest.

“As each one was born, they just tagged them as Triplet A, Triplet B and Triplet C. My wife pointed at each one and said ‘Dane, Gage and Lucas.’”

In 2002, when the boys were 5 years old, they moved to San Antonio, Texas, and five years later the family uprooted again, this time to Knoxville.


Welcome To Knoxville

The triplets attended and played hockey at Farragut High School when they moved to Knoxville in 2010.

Gage and Lucas also played for the Knoxville Jr. Ice Bears and went on to win the Tier II 18 & Under National Championship in 2014, becoming the first team from Tennessee to lay claim to a USA Hockey title.

The college search was fairly easy for the brothers and judging by the big grin on the boys’ faces; the University of Tennessee was the perfect fit.

“The club team at UT has been really enjoyable,” Gage said. “I really enjoy the campus and we consider ourselves to be part of a fraternity with the hockey team. We’re a group of brothers but we pay for ice time. We all hang out together outside of the rink too. It’s nice to get to school and have that clique.”

So far Knoxville has treated the Despins very well and the boys have created memories that will last a lifetime. And, maybe Rocky Top will always be home sweet home for the Tennessee triplets.


Maren Angus is a freelance writer in Hendersonville, Tenn.


Photos By Wade Payne




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