NHL reaches new golden age of brotherly love with 20 sets of siblings playing this season

Before facing off in a game this season, brothers William and Alexander Nylander posed at center ice. While the snapshot captured a nice family moment, the video was still rolling when William gave Alexander a brotherly shove.

Brady Tkachuk sat in the stands for brother Matthew’s playoff games during Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring. But when Brady’s Ottawa Senators faced Matthews’ Panthers this season, all the brotherly love was lost.

Hockey history is full of brothers on the big stage. This includes Maurice and Henri Richard during one of Montreal’s dynasties, Mark and Marty Howe playing with father Gordie in Hartford, plus Henrik and Daniel Sedin more recently in Vancouver. This season alone boasts 20 sets of brothers playing in the NHL, marking a golden age for bloodlines on the ice.

“It’s definitely a sport where it’s a family thing and it takes a lot of support,” said Washington defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who is two years younger than brother James, now with Boston. “Hockey is a game where a lot of it, obviously, depends on skills and stuff like that. But there’s so much where if you’re a smart player and you have an older brother that kind of shows you how to play and what to expect, it’s kind of a huge advantage.”

Many of the brothers who made it to the top league in the world chalk it up to childhood mornings at the rink.

“We were just playing around, but we would compete and we would just raise each other’s level without even knowing we were raising each other’s level,” said Philadelphia defenseman Marc Staal, who has played much of his career with brothers Jordan and Eric, and briefly Jared, also in the NHL. “You want success because you’ve seen your brother have success or you push him to have more success.”

Marc and Eric Staal shared the Panthers’ Cup Final run together as teammates. Marc said having their kids at the rink and in school made it seem like a normal family workweek.

Then there’s being on opposite sides, such as an Ottawa vs. Florida game where the teams had combined for 167 penalty minutes by late November. Matthew and Brady experienced that last week, jawing at each other like opponents with a grudge to settle, although they’ve promised their mother they’d never fight each other.

“That rule will not be broken,” Brady said.

It’s likely best for future Thanksgiving get-togethers. The Staals also appreciate this shared experience now that retirement isn’t far off. Their father Keith, who played 18 NHL seasons, pointed that out. Matthew recalled Brady getting drafted and the words he said five years ago.

“I was like: ‘We’re going to play against each other this year. How great is that?’” Matthew recalled. “And that’s five years ago. It’s crazy how fast it’s gone.”

It’s not out of the realm of possibility a trio of brothers sweeps the Hart Trophy as MVP, Norris as top defenseman and Calder as rookie of the year. Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes looks like the Norris frontrunner a quarter of the way through the season, while New Jersey’s Jack could be in the Hart talk and Luke the Calder conversation.

The Canucks and Devils play Tuesday night in Vancouver.

“That’ll be a lot of fun — the three of us in a game,” said Jack, who set up Luke for an overtime goal on Thursday. “It’s just a credit to our parents and how well they brought us up and how they taught us. It’s a celebration for them.”

Hockey, perhaps more so than other sports, is a bastion of brotherly competition and players benefit from seeing someone in the family go through the same ups and downs. Trevor van Riemsdyk knows he wouldn’t have gotten through Division I hockey and to the NHL without James forging that path. Capitals teammate Dylan Strome went through a similar circumstance learning from older brother Ryan, who was also drafted high but returned to the minors before breaking through in the NHL.

Just as Brady cheered on Matthew and the Panthers, Dylan was waving a rally towel at Madison Square Garden two years ago when Ryan and t he New York Rangers were in the playoffs. As long as they’re not facing off— like they did again Thursday when Anaheim hosted Washington — “Every other night, we’re cheering for each other,” Dylan said.

While being in the league is a common bond, Calgary’s Chris and Seattle’s Brandon Tanev spend plenty of time talking throughout the season and summer. However, it’s rare to play on the same team, like Seth and Caleb Jones did for two years with the Blackhawks. They were sometimes paired together on the ice.

“We never thought of playing together in the NHL,” Seth said. “We got traded to Chicago two weeks apart a couple of summers ago, which was pretty insane. It’s crazy how that worked out.”

It almost became a storybook finish of Eric and Marc Staal raising the Stanley Cup together, reaching the final before losing to Vegas. While a heartbreaking defeat, it made them appreciate going through it together.

“It’s something that we’ll always have and never forget,” Marc said. “We’ve all just kind of been soaking it in, not knowing when it’s going to end.”

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