International Ice Hockey Federation

Like father, like son

Like father, like son

Matthew Tkachuk before his IIHF debut

Published 16.04.2015 17:11 GMT+2 | Author Chapin Landvogt
Like father, like son
Matthew Tkachuk during a game of the U.S. U18 national team against the Providence College. Photo: Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images
In the mid-‘90s it was felt that the U.S. was experiencing a golden generation of hockey players.

When it won the Canada Cup against Canada in 1996, it enjoyed what might have been its grandest moment, the Olympic Miracle at Lake Placid in 1980 aside. That team featured no less than U.S. legends Mike Richter, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Phil Housley, Mike Modano, Tony Amonte, John Leclair, Pat Lafontaine and a certain Keith Tkachuk, amongst many others.

At the time, the six foot, 220 pound winger was considered one of the NHL’s premiere power forwards and that Canada Cup took place in the midst of him posting back-to-back 50 goal seasons, one with the Winnipeg Jets and the next with the relocated Phoenix Coyotes.

His NHL career proved to be a long one and saw him post 20 goals or more in 15 seasons. This string of 20 goal seasons was interrupted solely the 2005/06 season in which he put up 15 goals in 41 games, meaning he was well on pace to having 16 straight 20-goal seasons. In his NHL career, which spanned from 1991 to 2010, he scored 50 goals twice, 40 twice, and another 30 or more on five separate occasions.

Named to the USA Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012, Tkachuk’s long career ended in 2010 and he has since devoted his post-NHL life to spending time with his wife Chantal and their three children Matthew, Braeden (who he co-coaches on the St. Louis Blues Peewee AAA hockey team), and Taryn.

The Massachusetts-born winger’s legendary NHL and Team USA career is, however, now turning into a legacy for his eldest son. Matthew has been part of the United States National Training and Development Program for two years and is now just arriving in Switzerland to, like his father before him, represent his nation at an international World Championship tournament.

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Playing for the U.S. at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in the Swiss cities of Zug and Lucerne, he’ll actually be one-upping his father in a sense, who first represented the USA at the 1990 World Junior Championship.

But if you may think Matthew Tkachuk is simply hoping to live in his father’s shadow, you’ve got another thing coming.

In the course of this winter, the 6’1”, 187 pound 17-year-old, who is first eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, put 13 goals, 33 points and a +20 rating in 24 USHL games. In total, he had 81 points and 115 penalty minutes in 56 USDP games, which are numbers very similar to prior program standouts such as Jack Eichel and Sunny Milano – and that at an even younger age.

What is he expecting with Team USA in Switzerland?

“We expect nothing less than a gold medal. That’s what we have been preparing for, for two years now,” he said.

And who could really expect otherwise. The program is coming fresh off of a gold medal in 2014. It had taken silver and three golds in a row before that. The U.S. program has become the dominating force at the U18 level and mastered the creation of powerhouse programs by collecting some of the nation’s top talents for two years at a time, transforming them with painstaking detail and precision into U18 entry after U18 entry.

“I have been involved in USA Hockey as part of the NTDP for two years now, so the work I’ve put in over that time has been crucial to where I am right now. Our team has had winning a gold medal at this event on our minds for two years now. I enjoy the fact that USA Hockey has grown tremendously as is evidenced by our success internationally,” Matthew Tkachuk explains.

Heading to Switzerland, this U.S. program will be without the face of its past two teams, and likely top-two NHL draftee this summer, Jack Eichel. Whereas pundits may see that as a challenge for the U.S. in repeating, nothing could be further from Tkachuk’s mind.

“I don’t think with the talent level in this tournament that one player can win a championship without there being a strong team working together for a common goal. You need a team that knows its identity to win. And our team knows our identity, which has made us successful in international play so far.”

The USA is once again stacked with an arsenal of players who are headed to topflight NCAA programs and who will likely be selected by NHL teams within the next two drafts. The 17-year-old Tkachuk exemplifies exactly what these programs are looking for and why the U.S. program will once again challenge for a gold medal over the next 10 days.

Unselfish in his style of play, he’s strong on and away from the puck and along the boards, especially down low in the corners on the attack. He knows he’s here to score and that’s exactly what the coaching staff is expecting of him. Like all the other players in the program, he’s well aware that none of this is applicable without being responsible in his own end.

Tkachuk is no stranger to international play, even if this is his first World Championship, something he sees as cultural enrichment and motivation. “I’ve been playing in international events for two years now with USA Hockey and the NTDP. It was really cool winning the Four Nations Tournaments twice and the Five Nations Tournament once. Our team just had a great time in Fussen, Germany, conducting training camp. Waking up to the mountains outside my window every morning was probably the highlight of that trip. Now with that behind us, we are looking forward to spending time in Switzerland and just getting the tournament started. We are all really anxious to get going.”

Aside from Tkachuk’s upcoming tournament challenges in going for gold, there’s always that question of what pressure young men like himself may experience knowing that they are already being scrutinized by NHL experts in the stands, who are busy deciding if they would like to turn these young men into future employees. Not yet in his draft year, he hasn’t let this faze him to date.

“The way I look at it is it’s just another year. I see some of my teammates going through it and the process is really exciting, but the thing you need to realize is that the only thing you can control is how hard you work day in and day out. So that’s what I’m going to do.”

One of those players in a phase of heavy scout scrutiny is teammate, and cousin, Casey Fitzgerald, who attended the same high school as a freshman and sophomore as Matthew’s father did, Malden Catholic High. He’s now in Switzerland as a U.S. defenceman and is scheduled to attend Boston College next fall.

His father Tom, also a Massachusetts native, was a long-time defensive forward for the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators. The NHL family links for the two U18 players don’t end there. Casey’s brother Ryan plays at Boston College and was a Boston Bruins draft pick in 2013. Their brother Scott works for the Boston Bruins as a pro scout. In addition, Matthew and Casey are also cousins to current NHLers Jimmy Hayes (Florida Panthers) and Kevin Hayes (New York Rangers).

A family tree like this, and what it’s like to grow up as part of it, is hardly imaginable to just about any hockey fan. “Seeing some of the NHL guys go about their routines is just eye opening. As a young kid I saw them do that and I try to do what they do. Dreaming about playing in the NHL someday has pushed me to try to be the best each day. The way I’ve pushed myself over my career is probably the main reason why I am involved in USA Hockey right now,” Matthew Tkachuk clarifies, before going into more detail about what a childhood is like when your father is an NHL player as recognized as Keith Tkachuk was.

“It’s been awesome. I’ve seen things and witnessed things that kids can only dream about seeing. Dad has not only helped me on the ice but off it as well, obviously. The biggest thing he tells me to do is to compete and be a good teammate. Those words have carried me through my hockey career and will continue to for as long as I play.”

His fondest memory of it all?

“Probably watching my dad in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy. Nothing is better than witnessing the best players around the world competing for their country.” Few in the hockey world can look back on such a memory. For him it adds even more fuel to the fire.

In Matthew Tkachuk’s young life to date, the sport of hockey and his family and friends, of which he clearly has many, have played and continue to play the biggest roles. These important people will surely be providing support and rooting for him and Team USA as they gun for yet another medal. There’s no other option in Tkachuk’s eyes.

And like the father did in Turin – competing for the USA at the greatest level of competition possible for his age class – so does now the son in Switzerland.


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