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Hockey DayThe Woodcrofts, a unique Hockey Day in Canada family

Posted: Saturday, January 18, 2014 | 02:30 PM

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San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, top right, and assistant coach Jay Woodcroft, top center, during a game against the Nashville Predators Jan. 7, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press) San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, top right, and assistant coach Jay Woodcroft, top center, during a game against the Nashville Predators Jan. 7, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

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How many families have two different Stanley Cup champions, brothers who had lengthy minor pro and European careers, a father who was an accomplished junior goalie and four hockey-playing uncles? Tim Wharnsby has the answer: The Woodcrofts.

When Jay Woodcroft enters a rink somebody usually will approach and ask about him about his brothers Todd or Craig, his father Frank or one of his four uncles, Paul, Bud, Gerry or Gord.

"Hockey is a very small world," said Jay, the youthful looking 37-year-old assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks. "With us three and my Dad's family, there aren't too many arenas where I don't run into somebody who knows somebody in my family.

"I come [from] a hockey family in a true Canadian sense."

Actually, the Woodcrofts are a hockey family in a unique sense. How many families have two different Stanley Cup champions, brothers who had lengthy minor pro and European careers, a father who was an accomplished junior goalie, and four hockey-playing uncles, two of whom were Catholic priests and played with the colourful Flying Fathers of Hockey?

Jay goes to Russia every summer with Todd to help out with Pavel Datsyuk's PD13 Prospects camp in his hometown of Ekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, a 25-hour train ride from Moscow. Datsyuk invited the Woodcrofts six years ago because he wanted some Canadian instruction and passion evident at the camp. Jay and Todd have been a staple every since. Nail Yakupov is a former camp attendee. 

A few years ago at the camp, Jay explained a drill to a group through a translator. When he finished Jay attempted, in his limited Russian, to ask a young talent named Philip if he understood the drill.

"He looked me straight in the eye and answered me in perfect English that he understood," Jay recalled. "It turns out that he was born in Russia, lived there until he was nine years old and then emigrated to Canada to pursue his dream of being a hockey player."

The youngster had played minor hockey in the Toronto area and had heard about the Woodcroft brothers of Toronto taking their act to Russia each summer to help Datsyuk.  

"It just so happened that he had family in Ekaterinburg and he has been a student ever since," Jay said. "To be that far away, and have a connection to my hometown and to my family and friends was a pretty special example of just how small a world of hockey can be."

Hockey in their blood

Jay's passion for hockey was honed in a family that consumed the game. His dad's two oldest brothers, Paul and Bud, entered the priesthood and found a way to keep their hockey skills sharp with the late Father Les Costello and the Flying Fathers.

Costello was a Stanley Cup champion with the 1948 Toronto Maple Leafs before he was ordained as a priest in 1957.

The Flying Fathers used to play a series of hockey games in Canadian communities against local junior teams or NHL alumni squads each winter to raise money for various charities. Every once in awhile, Costello and Co. would need a goalie, and Frank Woodcroft would fill in.

Craig Woodcroft, a forward, was a seventh-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1988. After his career at Colgate University and four different stints with the Canadian national team, Craig played for 17 different teams in 13 seasons in North America, Finland, Germany, Italy and Sweden. He is the founder of Northern Edge, a renowned hockey instruction company that he runs out of Minnesota.

Todd, who played at McGill University and is scouting director of the Calgary Flames, has held various coaching and scouting positions in the NHL for more than a decade. He was on Mike Babcock's Canadian coaching staff for the 2004 gold-medal winning world championship team. Todd would later win a Stanley Cup ring as a member of the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings scouting staff.

It was Todd who told Babcock that his younger brother Jay, a forward who attended the University of Alabama-Huntsville, was about to conclude his playing days in Germany with Stuttgart in 2005 and he was interested in a career in coaching. Jay spoke with Babcock and a few months later, when Babcock joined the Detroit Red Wings, Jay joined his coaching staff. When Todd McLellan left the Red Wings to become an assistant coach, Jay joined the Sharks.

Besides winning a Stanley Cup with the 2007-08 Red Wings, Jay has undergone quite a hockey education with mentors like Babcock, Scotty Bowman, former Detroit assistants Paul MacLean and McLellan as well as current Sharks assistants Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson.

"I tell people I went to Red Wings University and now I'm taking my masters at San Jose Sharks State," Jay said.

Jay, no doubt, has the pedigree to one day become a head coach in the NHL, and, of course, provide the Woodcroft family another chapter to its unique hockey story.

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