The son of Caribbean immigrants, and one of three brothers drafted into the NHL, hockey’s most dynamic player was front and centre in the Montreal Canadiens’ deep run in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. He kicked back poolside with Maclean’s to reflect on summer, family, hockey and country.
My parents migrated to Canada when they were young and began adapting to the culture right away. We’ve always been very well integrated, and I think July 1 has come to signify that for us. Whether you’re with friends or family, you’re celebrating on Canada Day.
My dad Karl’s family came to Sudbury, Ont., and the first two things he learned about there were snow and hockey. They lived in a French neighbourhood known as the Donovan, and that’s how he became a Montreal Canadiens fan. He’d watch his neighbours playing hockey on the street, and he’d go see the Sudbury Wolves when [current Toronto Maple Leafs coach] Randy Carlyle was playing for them. He even got to see Wayne Gretzky.
He moved to Toronto, but, every summer, until I was about 12, my parents used to send my sister, Nastassia, and me to Sudbury to spend the first couple of weeks with my grandparents. My grandfather Sylvester worked in the Falconbridge nickel mine, and I’d get up at 4 a.m. before he went to work. He’d make me hot chocolate and put me back to sleep. Then, my sister and I would get up for the rest of the day, running through the sprinkler in the backyard, coming back inside for Popsicles. My grandmother would take us out to Ramsey Lake, where we’d pick blueberries and dip our feet in the water.
As I got older, summer became less of a vacation. I’d spend all 12 weeks at hockey school, either as a player and, later, as an instructor—a real rink rat. There’d be downtime, but I saw it more as an opportunity for me to get better at what I do. I was playing hockey for fun. I’m still playing it for fun.
But, this summer, the first thing to do was wind down. When you get to the third round of the NHL playoffs, the Stanley Cup is within your sights and it’s hard to accept when it’s over. Once I get back to my hometown, I start thinking about how I’m going to plan out my summer. It’s been about three weeks since we lost out and I’m already a week into my training. I’m on a strict diet: above-ground vegetables only, anything that runs, flies or swims, and no alcohol. It’s strange, but I probably drink more during the season than during the summer because I’m trying to control my weight. I can have fat, like milk fat, because otherwise, your body would shut down, but that’s about it.
I have to start early and take my time to build up, because my off-season is now so busy with appearances and marketing opportunities. I know the next couple of months are going to be rocky, so I try to start early to get in as many sessions as I can.
In a week, I’m off to Saint-Tropez, in the Mediterranean. But, as a family, we aspire to have a cottage in Ontario. We’re city people, but I’ve spent some time in Muskoka, and if you don’t ever get to experience that, you don’t understand the importance of it. It’ll have to be a good-sized place; I have a big family [laughing]. But I’ve got two brothers who can help me pay for it!
My parents used to tell me something I now know to be true: Canada is completely different from the United States. The U.S. is great—a lot of people like living there because it’s a bigger market. But there’s just something about Canada, a character; an understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong. In the U.S., there are so many conflicting opinions about how to conduct yourself as a community and as a people. It just seems like a hectic environment. Canada gave my family an opportunity to be successful, and that’s all you can ask for. It’s up to you to take advantage of it.