Elena and Igor Svechnikov travelled a great distance to finally witness their sons go head to head in the NHL.
But it makes sense for hockey parents who went beyond the extra mile to ensure their boys, Evgeny and Andrei, had food in their bellies and clothes on their backs, the proper equipment, quality coaching and opportunities to excel in the sport they love.
The brothers were raised to be kind, humble and respectful, while armed with an uncanny ability to make others laugh, in two languages.
The Svechnikov family's journey took them to different parts of Russia, resulting in frequent job changes for mom and dad, and, at times, substandard living conditions. Now, the family is reunited in Winnipeg, of all places, as Evgeny and the Winnipeg Jets prepared to host Andrei and the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night.
The siblings played against each other five times during the abbreviated 2020-21 season when Evgeny was still with the Detroit Red Wings, however, Tuesday's matchup will be the first with their parents in the building.
"It will be emotional," said Evgeny, 25, who inked a one-year, US$750,000 deal with the Jets just before the season-opener. "Just very happy for my mom and dad. What they’ve done for us since Day 1, there’s a lot to it. Sacrifices, tears, cries, switch cities, sleeping on the floors and everything else. So, they’ll both be at this game, so I'm very proud of my parents and my brother as well. We’re excited for them to watch."
Andrei, who turns 22 in March, is already in his fourth season with Carolina and is one of their drivers, with nine goals and 21 points in 22 games. He was sidelined with a hand injury Saturday as the Hurricanes dumped the Buffalo Sabres 6-2 but returned to the lineup at Canada Life Centre.
He, too, had eagerly anticipated the family gathering in the wintry Manitoba capital.
"Hopefully, I'm going to see them once in the stands and it's going to be emotional, for sure. I'm pumped for that, it's gonna be exciting," said Andrei, who signed an eight-year, US$62-million contract extension in late August. "Hopefully, they have a lot of fun. It's going to be fun for us."
Evgeny scored his second goal of the season in Sunday's 6-3 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and has eight points in 23 games. But his two-way game has been impressive and his confidence continues to rise, despite the fact he's now playing on the bottom six.
He said the brothers' success is due in whole to the hard work and dedication of their parents.
"It was super hard. There’s no five minutes to it, there’s so much days and hours to explain," Evgeny said. "But just tough life, not having money, not having things every family can have. Sleeping on the floors, not having much food and mom and dad grinding at work every day and night. Just trying to make money, bringing it to us, trying to feed us enough, a little bit.
"We were just out there to play hockey every day on the streets our at the rink all day long, skating, or with my brother with his (friends) or mine. Dedicated parents who did everything for us, switch cities, drive for three days to another city and put everything on the table. Just risking (everything), giving their life to us. I will never forget it. I’m fortunate sitting here because of them."
Elena and Igor began their lives together in Neftegorsk in Russia’s Sakhalin region. But in the spring of 1995, an earthquake struck, killing two thousand people and levelling almost every structure. Igor was one of the only doctors in the region but left the profession after witnessing so much death and suffering.
The young couple, fortunate to have survived, moved 900 kilometres away to Yuzhno-Sakhalinski and had their first child, Evgeny, in October 1996. The family moved again, this time nearly 5,800 kilometres to Barnaul, where their young son learned how to skate. Andrei, born in March 2000, wanted to be just like his brother and begged his parents to get him onto the ice, too.
In Barnaul, the couple worked several jobs to make ends meet.
"There’s so much. My mom worked at the rink as a manager at daytime and at night time, she was cleaning floors," said Evgeny, who hadn't seen his father in nearly three years, owing to the pandemic and the distance. "My dad was delivering cakes all over Russia, city to city. He was driving like 20 hours, he would be gone for weeks to just deliver cakes, that was his job. Before that, he was a doctor for 20 years. There was so much more jobs they had, it was a lot."
When Evgeny was 11, the family was convinced by a scout to move to Moscow, and later to Kazan, to continue his development. By the time he was 16, he was playing in the KHL for a short stint and a year later he was in the Quebec major junior league with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, alongside fellow Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois.
He also improved his English language skills, and isn't exactly short on chatter.
"(The Russian people) have a brilliant hope about them, a positivity about them in what I’d consider pretty tough circumstances at times. That’s exactly what Evgeny’s personality is," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "This guy is so positive about everything. He’s incredibly polite, funny as hell, which is usually a sign of extreme intelligence… he’s an energy giver.
"(Logan Stanley) goes by the bench the other night after a hit and (Evgeny) goes, ‘Way to go, Stanzilla!’ He’s just funny and hopeful and bright. He’s been a great pick up for our team."
Andrei played a year with Muskegon of the USHL and then suited up for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario junior league, under the tutelage of Jets 1.0 legend, the late Dale Hawerchuk.
The brothers are both first-round draft choices. Evgeny was taken 19th overall in 2015 by Detroit, while Andrei went second overall to the Hurricanes in 2018.
"I learned lots of things from him, just how hard-working he is and I know he always works hard, never gives up, no matter if he got injured or something else, he never gives up," Andrei said, of his brother. "He’s always staying positive, it doesn’t matter if he missed a year or two years, he always would tell me, 'I’m going to be fine, I’m going to play in the NHL and going to be a good player.' That’s what l learned the most from him, never give up and work hard every time."
Evgeny, who has hosted his parents for a week, said he marvels at his younger sibling's meteoric rise.
"The things he accomplished at such a young age. The pressure he had and how well he handles all of that," he said. "He is very mature in his young age and it’s impressive to watch. The work ethic he puts in during the summer, how hard he works, I don’t know anyone else who works harder than him, except me. Humble guy, just proud of him and proud to call him (my) brother."
Carolina head coach Rod Brind'Amour said it's a fitting tribute to the Svechnikov family they are here together.
"I know how hard (the boys) worked to get to the NHL, it’s been a family journey, really. It’s great to see," said Brind'Amour. "They’re tight and you’re just happy for them because they put in a lot of work."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WFPJasonBell
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).