MONTREAL — You can gain a better understanding of a player by spending a few minutes with his father.
P.K. Subban’s work ethic, Brendan Gallagher’s determination and Brian Gionta’s dedication to his family are all traits that were passed on by their parents.
The Canadiens held a take-your-dad-to-work trip last week with the fathers — and the occasional brother — joining the team on a road trip to Minnesota and Colorado.
“It’s a great opportunity to see how the players travel,” P.K. Subban’s father, Karl, said. “I can’t tell my wife how much fun I’m having.”
A native of Jamaica, the elder Subban developed a love of hockey — and the Canadiens — while growing up in a francophone neighbourhood in Sudbury, Ont. He played basketball at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, but passed his love of hockey on to his three sons.
P.K. won the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s best defenceman last season; goaltender Malcolm was a first-round draft choice of the Boston Bruins last year and is currently playing with Providence in the American Hockey League; and Jordan is a defenceman with the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls who was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the fourth round this year.
Karl Subban said he also emphasized the importance of practice and cited the work of Malcolm Gladwell, who was a champion runner in Ontario before becoming a best-selling author.
“Malcolm Gladwell says you have to spend 10,000 hours to master any skill,” Karl noted. “P.K. started skating when he was 2 and we would go to Nathan Phillips Square to skate whenever we could. I remember watching a game with P.K. and Steven Stamkos. P.K. was 6 and Stamkos was 5 and you could see they were the best skaters on the ice.
“I never worried about how many games P.K. played, but I made sure that he put in the work and that he always skated a lot,” Karl added.
Karl recently retired after 30 years as a teacher and administrator. Many of those years were spent in Toronto’s Jane-Finch corridor, where he stressed the importance of empathy in a neighbourhood marked by poverty and crime. He plans to write about his experiences and expound on his theories about education.
“I believe in what I call the four Ts — time, task, training and team,” he said.
The elder Subban is aware that his son is a lightning rod for criticism, but said there’s no value in wasting energy worrying about what people say.
“Your potential lies inside of you, it gives you the ability to reach for something to become something,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter what people say around you, it’s not going to change what’s inside of you. There’s greatness inside of you.”
Gallagher’s trademark is his smile.
“There’s plenty of times I’ve seen Brendan without a smile, but he’s playing hockey, so why wouldn’t he be smiling?” his father, Ian, said. “He’s playing in Montreal, which is the most iconic city to do so.”
Gallagher was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie last season, but his father played down the importance of individual achievement.
“A lot of individual recognition comes from team and opportunity,” Ian said. “We speak that language and believe that language. Brendan is an average person trying to be an above-average contributor on a good team.”
Ian, who played one year of a Junior A hockey, has been actively involved in his son’s development. He was teaching high school biology in Edmonton and was working as a personal trainer when he was offered a job as the strength coach for the junior Vancouver Giants.
The younger Gallagher became a star player despite the fact he’s only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds. His physical style means he gets knocked around a lot, but his father said: “It goes with the territory. He knows he has to play in those small areas.”
So, does Mrs. Gallagher cringe when she see her son get knocked down?
“His mother is probably less sensitive than I am,” Ian said. “She’s from a small farming community. She understands the price that has to be paid.”
For Sam Gionta, hockey was always a family activity with Brian and his younger brother, Steven, who plays for the New Jersey Devils.
“We never thought about the NHL when the boys were growing up,” Sam said. “It was something they enjoyed doing. They had a choice, weekend hockey tournaments or a family trip to Disney World, and they chose hockey. It was a family thing. It kept us together and it wasn’t until later that we began to think that hockey could take them further.”
Brian became involved in USA Hockey programs and commuted from his home in Rochester, N.Y., to play for an Ontario Junior A team in the Niagara region. He earned a scholarship to Boston College.
“As a father, that was huge,” Sam said, with Steven following his older brother to B.C.
“Hockey gave them an education, something I couldn’t provide for them,” Sam added. “It was a great opportunity for them to play hockey and accomplish school at the same time.”
Sam, who went from owning a small hardware store to working in a family business renovating windows and doors, finds time to see his sons play as often as possible.
“Once or twice a month, my wife and I go to Montreal,” he said. “It’s an easy drive and we also see Steven a couple of weekends a month. We catch their games when they’re in Buffalo and sometimes we manage to combine games with a vacation down south.”
Remembering long-distance hockey trips in a van, Sam said he was surprised to be invited for the Canadiens’ weekend trip. While dads’ trips are commonplace for many teams, Brian had never been part of one in his previous 11 seasons in the NHL.
“They’ve treated us so well,” Sam said. “We’ve had some good food, even on the plane.”
The trip included a gangsters’ tour of St. Paul, Minn., which was home base to the likes of Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and JohnDillinger in the 1930s, as well as a word from the sponsor as they visited the Coors Brewery in the Denver suburb of Golden, Colo.
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