As the Philadelphia Flyers began their 2011-12 preseason on Tuesday night with a 4-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, it got me thinking about the close-knit nature of the sport in direct contrast to its international reach.
Despite a pool of talent now stretching from Kelowna to Kazakhstan, some things never change. Skating for the Flyers, Blake Kessel and Brayden Schenn. Skating for the Leafs, Phil Kessel and Luke Schenn.
Thus, a rivalry was born. Or is it?
When I started watching the NHL, back in 1985, its population was almost totally homogeneous: White North Americans made up roughly 95 percent of the league.
That meant brothers against brothers, brothers playing with brothers, and groups of one family pitted against groups of another.
In 1984-85 alone, the family ties were very evident.
There was Dan Maloney on the Rangers and brother Dave (NYR/BUF), the Stastnys (Peter and Anton in Quebec, Marian in Toronto), Steve (BUF/NYR) and James Patrick (NYR), Alain (STL) and Mario (PIT) Lemieux, Joe (STL) and Brian (WIN) Mullen, Randy (Que) and Mike Moller (BUF).
You had three Hunters – Dale (Que), Mark (MTL) and Dave (EDM),with the brother from another mother Tim (CAL), and the brass ring of six Sutters – Brian (STL), Darryl (CHI), Rich and Ron (PHI), Brent and Duane (NYI).
On the Chicago Blackhawks, there were no fewer than six players with first initials on their jerseys. B. Murray and T. Murray, S. Larmer and J. Larmer, along with D. Wilson and B. Wilson. Only the Larmers were related.
There were also a number of close calls. Greg Adams of the Devils and Greg C. Adams in Washington. Don’t forget Craig Ramsay and Mike Ramsey in Buffalo, and Brent Peterson of Buffalo paired opposite Barry Pederson of the Bruins.
Because of so many close relations in a league with only 21 teams, there was more respect between players and between clubs. Brothers rarely, if ever, fought against each other because the damage they could cause created too much drama that had to be addressed — both on the ice by each team’s respective enforcers and certainly once back home in the offseason.
Even into the 90′s, Brett and Eric Lindros never tussled, and the pair-off between Hartford’s Keith and Buffalo’s Wayne Primeau looked like two half-hearted dancers rather than a bona-fide scrap. I don’t recall either Kevin, Kip or Kelly Miller getting involved with either of the other two brothers except to clear them out of the way.
If Derian and Kevin Hatcher ever angered each other, the strength of the rumble would stretch all the way to Armenia.
And so it is now, with the Kostitsyns and the Toewses, the second-generation Sutter cousins and maybe all four of the Staals having a shot to skate in The Show — the more siblings that end up finding roster spots, the greater I hope that more civility creeps back into individual play.
Something has to take the edge off, to force the reins to be pulled in. Might as well be blood considered before blood spilled.
Even though the great double Schenn/Kessel showdown didn’t materialize, here’s hoping for more spirited, yet clean play from all the fraternal combinations who manage to make the 30 NHL rosters this year.