Family ties add twists to Memorial Cup, Stanley Cup chases
Edmonton Oil Kings teammates Mads Eller, Henrik Samuelsson have opposing NHL rooting interests
Mads Eller, Ben Carroll and Brandon Ralph of the Edmonton Oil Kings take a look at the London Knights’ banners hanging from ceiling of the Budweiser Gardens arena in London, Ont., on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Teams participating in The Memorial Cup CHL hockey championships held practices in the Budweiser Gardens arena for the tournament that begins play Friday.
Photograph by: Dave Chidley, THE CANADIAN PRESS
LONDON, Ont. — Henrik Samuelsson and Mads Eller, like the rest of their Edmonton Oil Kings teammates, are firmly as one for the next 10 days in their pursuit of a 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup championship, but their familial hockey rooting interests are set to collide this weekend.
Samuelsson’s dad, Ulf, a former NHL defenceman of distinction, now is an assistant coach with the New York Rangers, who meet the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final series. The Canadiens posse of swift, skilled forwards includes Lars Eller, Mads’ older brother.
Something is going to give beginning Saturday, when the Rangers and Canadiens start Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff series a couple of hours before the Oil Kings face the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm in the first game for both teams at the 96th edition of the Memorial Cup.
“Obviously, he’s going to cheer for Montreal, and I’m going to go for New York,” Samuelsson, 20, said after his team’s first practice here Thursday. “We’ll probably have a few wrestling matches about it, but that’s about it.”
Hockey, like any sport, is a powerful vehicle for inter-generational communication, but one family member chasing a Stanley Cup championship while another is gunning for a Memorial Cup title simultaneously is a special sort of life experience.
“It’s weird — you get happier for people you love rather than for yourself,” Samuelsson said. “So, when he succeeds, it makes me so happy watching him win.
“It’s unbelievable. And he probably feels the same way. It’s great to have that kind of connection with your dad.”
Eller, an 18-year-old Western Hockey League rookie, has been watching 25-year-old Lars compete, when his own playoff schedule permits. Mads certainly watched the Canadiens eliminate the Bruins in Game 7 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series on Wednesday night.
“I did,” Eller said. “It was amazing.
‘I know how much it means to my brother, especially since last (playoffs), when he got knocked (unconscious) against Ottawa. It was hard for him, so it’s just so nice to see him doing well this season and in the playoffs.”
The Eller brothers are sons of Olaf, a Danish hockey coach who is currently in Minsk, Belarus, as a member of Team Denmark’s support staff at the World Hockey Championship. Olaf watches as many of Lars’ and Mads’ games as he can on the Internet, which is also how Ulf keeps up with Henrik’s Oil Kings career.
“Obviously, we didn’t play together. Six years is a big difference, but we’re really close,” Mads said. “When we were younger, we had lots of fights.
“Me and my brother were always going at it.
“He was always the older brother, right? So I would always get my ass kicked, but I never backed down, I always fought hard against him. We were very close when we were younger.”
Like the Samuelssons, who talk twice daily — and always after games — the two Eller brothers are in regular communication. Lars watches some of Mads’ games, when the timing works, and vice versa.
The Oil Kings’ Game 7 against Portland on Monday night conflicted with the Canadiens-Bruins matchup, so Mads said he had no idea his brother scored the first goal — the game-winner — in Game 6 in Montreal. He found out on the ice surface in Portland after the Oil Kings eliminated the Winterhawks.
“We talk a lot, but we don’t talk that much about the championships,” Eller said about his regular contact with brother Lars. “It’s more, like, how’s it going, how are you, we talk about different aspects of the game, when he watches my games, we talk about what I could do better, what he sees. We analyze each other.
“Mostly, it’s about enjoying it and having fun.”
Mads Eller, like his older brother, played elite level hockey in Sweden for a couple of years before opting to go the major junior hockey route. Unlike Lars, who was drafted by the St. Louis Blues out of the Swedish Elite League, Mads found that “it wasn’t my path. My style — more physical play, more speed — it wasn’t appreciated that much in Sweden. I was bound to be over here, and I have no regrets at all.
“It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
And how much would a hockey-mad Danish kid know about the Memorial Cup and all its traditions?
“Nothing, nothing,” Eller said.
He learned about the major junior championship tournament because his close friend, Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Danish scoring star with the Oil Kings’ rival, the Portland Winterhawks, competed in it last spring.
“He didn’t tell me that much about it, just that you play against the top four teams in the (CHL), right,” Eller said. “Now, I get to experience it myself.”
And his first impressions?
“That it’s first class,” Eller said. “Everything is just first class, the hotels, the service, everything around the rink, the locker rooms.
“I’m very excited.”
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