From Russia and India with love, grandparents help make OHL hockey dreams come true

Having kids in competitive sports often means there are a lot of sacrifices to be made. Paige Martin found one Ontario Hockey League family who knows this well. We'll learn about how they made the leap across countries and oceans so that their kid could play.
Having kids in competitive sports often means there are a lot of sacrifices to be made. Paige Martin found one Ontario Hockey League family who knows this well. We'll learn about how they made the leap across countries and oceans so that their kid could play. 8:26

The path to greatness, for many Ontario Hockey League (OHL) stars, goes through their grandparents.

It's a hard and long road from minor hockey star to the top leagues in the province and the country and for many young players it's their grandparents who are doing the driving.

Our OHL contributor Paige Martin talked with some players about how their grandparents have helped make their hockey dreams possible. Martin spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about the role grandparents are playing in the development of some of the next generation of hockey stars. You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above. 

Paige Martin, OHL columnist with CBC London
(Paige Martin)

CC: What have you learned about the role grandparents play in raising a successful hockey player?

Paige Martin: Well, it's been quite fascinating. When I started asking about the kind of sacrifices that go in to making an OHL player, grandma and grandpa kept coming up as the MVP. I want to introduce you to Sahil Panwar. He plays for the Knights. It's his second year with the team and his entire family has made a lot of life adjustments so that he can play.

He and his dad moved from California to Michigan so that he could play for the Honey Baked hockey club when he was just 15. His mom and his younger brother and sister, they're actually still back living in L.A. but they knew that this was his chance. His dad said yes, let's do it. Let's move to the east coast. The competition is a little bit better. And then his grandparents decided to step in as well.

Sahil Panwar: They're from India and they've come all the way. They came to Michigan and still this year they've come to help me and cook. They cook food for me and just take care of me a little. We rent a small apartment. I live with them and they make great food, whatever I want — Indian recipes or just good American food. They've always been there and I really appreciate that. They're they're always willing to help me.

PM: Isn't that incredible? I mean, they saw it as an opportunity to be with their grandson and they're all just loving it. It's fascinating when you think about moving across the country from California to Michigan.

CC: Which other players have come to depend on help from their grandparents?

PM: Well there are a fair amount of international players in this league and I found another example of grandparents really stepping up to help. One day last season after I finished the show with Pete James we were walking out and noticed Matvey Guskov standing with his grandparents. They had come all the way from Russia and it turns out that they have decided to stay again and this time for the whole season. I got to talk to Matvey Guskov during practice one day. He's from Russia. This is his second year living in Ontario and this is what he had to say about his grandparents living alongside him.

Matvey Guskov: They don't have to work back in Russia. They just want to help me with all the stuff. It was very hard to move here with no parents in a new country with a new language. They just wanted to help me. 

PM: That may have been a little bit hard to catch with the pucks flying in the background but Matt they told me you know it was hard to move to a new country especially when it's a completely different language as well and that's the case for many of these young players the NHL they're recruiting from so many places around the world. You see kids coming from Russia. There's Sweden and England. You know they're coming as young as 15 years old. So having family around is very important. And Conrad what I loved was when I talked with both Matvey and Sahil they both mentioned having someone making them great food.  


CC: I'm sure you've run into lots of proud parents and grandparents at the rinks. What do they tell you about what it takes to support a talented hockey player?

You see them at the rink. There's always a crowd after the games waiting to see their kids outside the dressing room. Hockey parents all know very well that the financial sacrifice is huge. Everybody knows that hockey is not the cheapest sport. The Canadian Youth Sport report says it's about two thousand dollars a year on average to keep a kid in hockey. Give or take. I asked Knights forward Liam Foudy about the financial sacrifices that his family has made especially because he has a younger brother who is now in his sophomore year with the Windsor Spitfires.

Liam Foudy: Having two kids playing hockey right from the start it's definitely expensive in Toronto. Them having to take time off from work or to get us to tournaments — whatever they had to do to get to practices. It's huge, what they did for us.
Liam Foudy, 19, plays for the London Knights (provided: London Knights)

PM: And the sacrifices they really just go on and on. Matvey's dad is a former professional hockey player and he stays awake, despite the time difference over in Russia, to watch his son's games and then he'll call the next day and give him some guidance, some pointers here and there. Sahil's dad works out of Columbus Ohio, Monday to Thursday and then makes the six hour drive up every week across the border to catch the games on the weekends and just manages to grab some groceries for Sahil and his grandparents as well, because why not.

CC: The relationship between a parent and a coach is different in junior than it is in minor hockey. What have you noticed about how junior coaches relate to parents?

That's that's an interesting point that you bring out. Dylan Hunter, the assistant coach for London, was really crediting so much the players success to the dedication of their parents and how much their parents really career. The parents are kind of giving that responsibility, a lot of that responsibility, to the coaches to look after their son and the coaches really become such a strong figure in their life to look up to. He said specifically he remembers Tim and Cindy Horvat. Vancouver Canucks fans, pay attention in this one.

They're the parents of the current alternative captain of the Canucks, Bo Horvat. They would drive down, week after week, from Rodney, Ontario and get their kid to wherever he needed to be. They drove across the province consistently to make it to his games and sometimes practices. Bo has a little brother Kyle who also played hockey and sometimes Kyle would be there and sometimes it makes for a long, long night and long weeks and long weekends.

But, clearly, especially in their case it definitely paid off and I think it's just so cool for someone who's not directly involved with the team,like the families and players are, to hear stories like these ones and know just how much is behind that player on the ice. I think a lot of the time people forget that these players are still just kids and the majority of them don't get to see their families every day. They're in a different city and some, a different country but they're still expected to go out and perform at such a high level under so much pressure with so many eyes on them. I think it just goes to show how quickly these kids really have to mature in that way.

CC: That's a level of responsibility that most of their friends back home at their high school don't have to take on at that age.

Yeah. I think it definitely contributes to the team chemistry. At 16 you're able to look up to those older guys and say 'Okay you've done this before.' No one really knows how difficult this is other than us. People always wonder when you see them on the ice they're they're so close all of a sudden. It's because they have to be. They're all sharing the same experience and they're away from their families and they're just trying to to make their selves known and do their best. 

About the Author

Conrad Collaco is a CBC News producer for CBC Hamilton with extensive experience in online, television and radio news. Follow him on Twitter at @ConradCollaco, or email him at conrad.collaco@cbc.ca.


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