ST. LOUIS — Calgary Flames left winger Matthew Tkachuk is embroiled in a bit of controversy as the NHL presses pause on its regular season for the annual All-Star Game festivities, held this year in Tkachuk’s hometown.
A few weeks ago in a game against Edmonton, Tkachuk delivered a couple of exceptionally aggressive, but specifically legal, hits on Oilers forward Zack Kassian. When Kassian tried to start a fight with Tkachuk, tossing him to the ice like a rag doll a couple of times, Tkachuk refused to punch back. Kassian was penalized and then suspended, while the Flames went on to win that game and gain a couple of points in an intense Pacific Division race — five teams, including the Flames and Oilers, have either 57 or 58 points.
It was classic Tkachuk. Well, classic Tkachuks, plural.
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Know who wasn’t surprised to see 22-year-old Matthew Tkachuk involved in a chippy incident on the ice that raised eyebrows and stirred emotions across the league? Anyone who spent any time around Matthew and his younger brother, Brady — like Matthew, a first-time All-Star this season — while the two siblings were growing up in the shadow of their dad, Keith, during the nine years he spent with the Blues.
The feisty demeanor the brothers have on the NHL ice now was very evident when they were kiddos tagging along with their father, a five-time All-Star himself.
“Especially when they were whacking each other over the heads,” Blues legend Al MacInnis told Sporting News with a hearty laugh Thursday. “No, no no. They were just competitors. They competed all the way up through youth hockey. I watched them from atom hockey all the way up. You can’t teach that. You either have it or you don’t, and you can see it in them. They were students of the game.”
MacInnis played with Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis the final four years of his Hall of Fame career, 2000-04, when Matthew and Brady were still learning to skate. David Perron played with Keith — known across the league as Walt or Big Walt — in his first three seasons in the NHL, 2007-10, before Keith retired.
And, yeah, Perron, who was a regular competitor in games of floor hockey with the Tkachuk boys, sees the same thing as MacInnis.
“Oh, absolutely. They were chirping their dad as kids,” Perron told SN. “It’s all coming from their dad. He’s the one who made them tough. He’s the one who made them play the way they are, in a good way. I have a lot of respect for that family. Big Walt helped me a lot.”
Everyone has stories about the Tkachuk boys. Chris Pronger, like MacInnis a Hall of Fame defenseman, remembers a broken finger in the locker room.
“I looked down and it’s crooked,” he said with a laugh. “He’s kind of crying, but not really. He was only 4 or 5.”
And then, there’s the blindside check Matthew — who’s not quite two years older than Brady — unloaded on his brother in the wives’ room at the arena.
“I don’t remember the broken finger,” Brady, a winger with Ottawa, said with a grin, “but I do remember the hit from behind into the couch.”
It’s Matthew with the selective amnesia on this one.
“I don’t remember that, but the story is a legendary story,” he said Thursday, laughing at the All-Star Game media day. “The security guys here still tell it. I guess I hit him and he hit his forehead on the couch, after a Blues win. … I guess it’s a legendary story that nobody’s going to forget. I’d like to forget it, but everyone’s always bringing it up.”
It’s not a story that’s going away anytime soon.
I asked both brothers who was the feistier of the two. The answers were very similar, not that anyone should be surprised by that.
“Feistier? I don’t know,” Brady said. “Matthew was just stronger than I was, so I would say I never gave up, so I got pretty feisty just trying to stay in the battles with him. We just pushed one another, and I’m grateful for that, because I think you can kind of see that in the feistiness we both have now.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Matthew said. “I’d say probably Brady because I was the older one and winning most of the battles, winning most of the stuff we played, so that probably made him tougher. He’s had a really competitive edge since he was young, and I think it’s showing.”
Keith is showing, too.
“When you watch both of them, you see a lot of Keith in them, in where they go, get in front of the net, their passion for the game, how hard they play and the physical nature they play with,” Pronger said. “They certainly play the way their dad did.”
More MacInnis: “The two boys, you’ve got to love the way they play. They show grit, they go to the hard areas. They know where they have to go to score and produce. They’re not the greatest skaters, but their hockey sense and their will to get the pucks make up the difference. They’re going to be pros and All-Stars for a lot of years.”
And there just might be a few controversies along the way, too.