Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chips off the old blocks flying around the ice in Buffalo

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BUFFALO -- Team USA's Ryan Bourque is a spitting image of the old man: those arching eyebrows and high cheekbones are Ray Bourque's handiwork, no doubt.

Team Canada's 19-year-old Marcus Foligno, meanwhile, is a back-to-the-future image for the folks in Buffalo, who cheered for his father Mike, a member of the Sabres Hall of Fame, for over a decade.

Of course, it happens in all sports. The Alous and Bonds of baseball. The Mannings of the NFL. But the family trees at the world junior hockey championship have been producing seeds for years now and never has that been more apparent than in Buffalo.

In all, four Team Canada members -- Foligno, Carter Ashton, Sean Couturier and Dylan Olsen -- were sired by fathers who played in the NHL, although to varying degrees. Mike Foligno played 1,018 games over 15 seasons with the Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers, while Olsen's father, Darryl, played just one game for the Calgary Flames during the 1990-1991 season.

In fact, Ashton was born in Winnipeg, where his father Brent was a Jet from 1989-1992, part of a 14-year career. Sylvaine Couturier was a Los Angeles King for parts of seasons between 1988-1992. His son, Sean, is a projected top three pick in the 2011 NHL draft.

"It's is amazing," noted Team Canada GM Scott Salmond, when asked about the father-son pedigree of the WJHC. "There's a study in there somewhere."

Two things: Although other nations have generational genetics -- for example, Thomas Steen's son Alex and and Kent Nilsson's son Robert played for Sweden a few years back -- the vast majority of offspring can be found on American and Canadian rosters. And of the former, most fathers were often Canadians who just happened to be toiling in the U.S. when their sons were born.

To wit, Team USA captain John Ramage is the son of Rob Ramage, the first overall pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1979. The father later played six seasons for the St. Louis Blues. Go figure, John was born in Missouri. Both Ryan Bourque and brother Chris, who played for Team USA in the 2005 and 2006 juniors, were born just outside of Boston, where their Hall of Fame father was a Bruins icon for over two decades.

There's a Manitoba equation to the father-son history, too, outside of former Jets Steen and Nilsson. Winnipeg's own Colin Wilson, son of Carey, played for Team USA in 2008 and 2009. Now with the Nashville Predators, Wilson was born outside of New York when his pop was suiting up for the Rangers in the late 1980s. Another Winnipegger, Chris St. Croix, played for the Americans in (where else?) Winnipeg during the 1999 WJHC. St. Croix's father, Rick, is a long-time Manitoba Moose assistant who tended goal for the Flyers and Leafs in the early 1980s.

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Bob Nystrom won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders. Nystrom's son, Eric, born in Long Island, was with Team USA at the 2002 and 2003 juniors. And does anyone remember the MVP of the 2004 WJHC? That would be New Jersey Devils star Zach Parise, son of former Team Canada Summit Series member J.P. Parise. Zach was born in Minnesota, where his father retired as the Stars all-time assist leader.

They probably all have childhood stories similar to Foligno -- who was not only born in Buffalo, but is a Sabres draft pick. Like the Bourques, Foligno could have suited up for the U.S., but opted to play for Canada because that was the wish of his mother, Janis, who passed away in 2009 from breast cancer. Ironically, Marcus's brother Nick, a forward with the Ottawa Senators, has played for Team USA at the last two world hockey championships.

"Whenever you've had a father or brother who's played in the NHL, it's a good experience," Foligno said. "It helps you out a little bit; their advice and what they know. Me and my brother are pretty hard workers in the summer and having him push me along helped me become a better player. It's huge."

Marcus still can catch his dad playing on those NHL classic games every once in awhile up in Sudbury, where he toils for the OHL's Sudbury Wolvers, who his dad coached before becoming an assistant with the Anaheim Ducks this season. Said Marcus: "Just seeing him (father Mike) and the way he carried himself around the rink and the way he carried himself on the ice, too, was something special to watch."

And so it goes.

We could go on. Former Team Canada juniors Sam Gagner, Gregory Campbell, Jeff Tambellini and Brandon Sutter all have played or are playing in the NHL, just like their dads.

USA Hockey executive Tim Taylor didn't hesitate to offer the obvious explanation for the lineage. "It's genes and environment," Taylor said.

But it's also a matter of mathematics, added Team USA general manager Jim Johannson. "There's 30 NHL teams now," he said. "All of a sudden you've got 1,000 guys who play in the league every year."

That means more fathers, which means more sons. And with 24 out of 30 NHL teams based south of the border, heredity is on the side of Uncle Sam.

Right now at the World Under-17 tournament in Winnipeg, there's a couple of kids on Team USA you've never heard of, but their father's names might ring a bell: Stephane Matteau and Ulf Samuelsson.

Matteau was born in Quebec and played 12 NHL seasons. Samuelsson is a Swede who played 17 years in the NHL. Their sons are now wearing the stars and stripes.

A study should be done, indeed.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2010 C4

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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