Brothers battle on and off the ice
ANCOUVER — The pre-game war of words between the Tanevs was edgier than the on-ice battle last December when they faced each other for the first time in the NHL.
Trash talk, that’s what brothers do, although soft-spoken siblings Chris and Brandon Tanev remember engaging in some playful banter rather than trading actual smack.
“We got into it a bit, like just about any other day between brothers,” says Chris, 27, a skilled, defensively reliable blue-liner with the Vancouver Canucks. “Whether you’re on the street playing hockey or in your basement, you want to beat your brother. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing.
“That was the first time (going head to head) and it was pretty special. You remember that one for the rest of your life.”
Brandon, 25, a fast, plucky bottomsix forward for the Winnipeg Jets, clearly recalls the night he finally crossed paths with big brother.
“A couple of hits here, bumps there, but nothing crazy,” he says. “We had much worse when we were younger and just horsing around.
“It was exciting to play against your brother at the highest level of hockey. You grow up playing in the backyard and in the basement together. So, getting to go on the ice and play against him in the NHL is a great moment for the whole family.”
The Tanevs’ inaugural NHL on-ice encounter happened Dec. 20, 2016, a contest won 4-1 by the Canucks.
A rematch set for two nights later in Vancouver didn’t materialize because Winnipeg sent Brandon down to its
VAHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. But late in the season in Winnipeg, they were on opposite sides again, and Brandon evened the lifetime series at a game apiece (Winnipeg won 2-1 on March 26).
Chris and Brandon met for dinner Wednesday night and, 24 hours later, reconnected at Rogers Arena as the Western Conference squads faced off in their first of three meetings this NHL season.
The great hope for the clan — dad Mike Tanev, mom Sofie Meredith and younger brother, Kyle, 23 — is that there are years of showdowns still to come between the eldest and middle child.
Born and raised in the East
York neighbourhood of Toronto, the Tanev kids ate, slept and breathed hockey. The boys were a little more than two years apart in age, meaning they shared hours together playing spirited basement mini-stick games, but they competed on different hockey squads growing up.
Their parents should have applied for chauffeur licences.
“It was chaos growing up,” Chris says. “Equipment everywhere, different schedules... trucking us around to games and practices, the usual Canadian household.”
Adds Brandon: “It was constant running around to rinks. We can’t thank our parents enough for all they did. Three boys playing hockey all over the place, and playing different sports, too, there was a lot on their plate.”
Chris, then just 21, burst onto the scene with Vancouver during the 201011 season, and seven years later he’s one of the pillars of a Canucks team in rebuilding mode.
An undrafted rookie, he played the 2009-10 season at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and reached the NCAA Frozen Four, before signing with the Canucks that spring.
He began the 2010-11 season in Winnipeg with the Moose, Vancouver’s then-AHL affiliate, and wasn’t considered a likely candidate to don Canucks colours.
But he was called up to Vancouver in January when the blue-line corps ran into injury troubles, and debuted in Denver with friends and family, including Brandon, cheering from the stands. He stayed with the Canucks for most of the second half of the season, registering just one assist with limited playing time.
The following two seasons, he split time between Vancouver and its new farm squad, the Chicago Wolves, before landing a permanent gig with the big club in 2013-14.
Brandon, meanwhile, played four years at Providence College in Rhode Island, scoring the game-winning goal in the 2015 national final to lift the Friars to their first-ever NCAA title. Wooed by several squads, he had heard good things about the Jets organization from Chris, who came to know and trust people such as then-Moose general manager Craig Heisinger and owner Mark Chipman.
“He definitely had questions for me about Manitoba,” Chris says.
“I knew Zinger from there, knew he was a very good man and it was a quality organization. But (Brandon) made his own decision from there.”
Brandon signed with the Jets in March 2016 and played the last three games of the season with Winnipeg. Last season, he suited up for 51 contests with the NHL club, registering his only two tallies in the same game against the host Detroit Red Wings. This fall, he’s already halfway to that total after cashing in on a shorthanded breakaway earlier this week in Calgary.
He’s held in high regard by Winnipeg’s coaches, who have increased the tenacious left-winger’s responsibility load lately, elevating him to the third line and regularly calling on him to kill penalties.
“He can skate. He’s definitely one of the fastest guys whenever he’s on the ice,” Chris said.
“When he’s using his speed effectively, he’s a very good player for them. That was a great goal he got in Calgary.
“I haven’t had much of a chance to watch full games, but I’ll see bits and pieces. (Kyle) usually keeps track and I’ll get a text from him saying, ‘Brandon’s doing good or Brandon’s doing bad,’ or whatever. He’s keeps track of both of us.”
Brandon is equally complimentary toward a guy he considers a role model.
“I always wanted to play in the NHL. That was the dream, just like every other kid playing hockey in Canada,” he says. “Once you get the opportunity, the work isn’t finished. I think Chris helped me understand that. You have to continue to better yourself on and off the ice.
“He’s so smart, an unbelievable puckmoving defenceman. I feel like he has that ability to make people around him better and that’s a terrific characteristic to have as a hockey player.
VANCOUVER — Injured Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien (lower body) took the morning skate Thursday, the first time he’s been on the ice since a 6-3 loss to the host Calgary Flames four days before.
Jets coach Paul Maurice, who chatted a few times with the imposing veteran during the short session, said Byfuglien’s return to the lineup — possibly as early as Saturday at home against the Carolina Hurricanes — is contingent on how he feels after practice today.
“He pushed (Thursday) and I think if he can get back on the ice and feel strong (today) then he’ll possibly be an option for us against Carolina,” Maurice said.
Byfuglien is still listed as day-to-day. As a longtime NHL head coach, Maurice has had an optimum view of the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, since their arrival from Sweden at the start of the millennium.
He still marvels at the Canucks’ sensationally gifted set of 37-year-old siblings and the double trouble they cause their NHL opponents.
“So, one’s moving with the puck but the other is working, too. They are truly a pair out there and they use the back of the net and they play off each other so well,” Maurice said.
“That’s the challenge, because you’re not just defending the one, you’re defending the two. They’re both doing something at the same time that opens the ice up for each other.”
Henrik, a centre and the Canucks captain, played the 1,251st game of his career Thursday. He entered the game against the Jets with 237 goals and 1,023 points. Daniel, a left-winger, had played 1,227th NHL games heading into the matchup, firing 370 goals and 987 points along the way.
The Tanev brothers, Jets forward Brandon (left) and Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris (above), faced each other in an NHL game for the third time Thursday night.