One of the fun things about viewing the television coverage after a Stanley Cup champion is crowned, comes when the players mingle with their families.
Watching a father and son displaying raw emotions is a special moment to witness. The two of them embraced in a hug with no words being spoken. A thankful son, who knows the sacrifices his dad made to help him climb hockey's highest mountain. A grateful father, who knows he played an important role in his boy fulfilling a life-long dream.
Another special bond in the hockey world exists between former/current professional players and their offspring. This is a completely different dynamic with unique pressures and expectations. In this grouping the public perception is the elders have already set the standard and the youngsters are expected to meet or exceed them.
There is little doubt the son of the local dry cleaner isn't carrying the same weight on his shoulders, while playing youth hockey, as the kid with the last name Morenz or Conacher. Sure, the dry cleaners lad can be filled with anxiety at the thought of letting his pop down and not performing at a certain level. Also, we have all heard the horror stories of the overbearing parent that drives their child to the brink if they aren't making the grade. However, the public and media don't scrutinize their progress in the game. But that can't be said of Howie Morenz Jr., Pete Conacher and other youngsters who had big shoes to fill. In their cases, they had to live in the shadows of two iconic NHL superstars.
I have interviewed both Howie Jr. and Pete and their recollections of growing up in a famous hockey family are very similar. Although the spotlight was focused directly on them at a very young age, neither Howie nor Pete felt their dad applied undue pressure to join them in the family business.
I've also discussed this topic with Blaine Smith. His dad, the late Sid Smith, played his entire National Hockey League career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blaine told me he had the full support of his dad and it was never an issue or problem if he didn't follow the same career path as his dad.
Blaine kindly lent me the above pictorial gallery, which appeared in the February 1966 edition of Hockey Pictorial magazine.
In a very subtle manner, the text hints that because dad is a pro hockey player, "...big leaguers past and present also may have future NHL stars on the way up." Again, a very slight reference, but the seed was planted for the readers to ponder the question, "does Sid Smith's son have what it takes to make it to the NHL?"
Behind the scenes, hockey was a game father and son shared and loved with a bond that couldn't be shattered or destroyed by outside forces.
A lesson the entire hockey community could learn from on this Father's Day.