By Patrick King, Sportsnet.ca
It took just two laps around the ice before Luke Schenn got the reaction he was looking for.
Schenn, who stood silently amongst the crowd behind the net while watching warm-up, felt an air of pride as he watched a prodigy hone his skills in a league he was all too familiar with.
The prodigy, who upon noticing Schenn’s presence in the crowd began smiling from ear to ear, was none other than Luke’s younger brother, Brayden, a standout rookie with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“He didn’t know we were coming,” Luke confessed, as he was joined in the crowd by the rest of the family. “We decided to drive down and surprise him… and I’m definitely very happy that we did.”
Luke, who’s a star defenceman with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League, had recently returned from winning the gold medal with Team Canada at the world junior championships. Upon his return from the tournament in the Czech Republic, the Rockets gave him a week off to re-energize and prepare himself mentally for the remainder of the season.
Since he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to see his younger brother play in the same league he has called home for the past three seasons, the decision to make the trip from Saskatoon, Sask. to Brandon, Man. to see him play was a no-brainer.
“I was a little bit shocked,” said Brayden, who hadn’t seen his older brother since he left in August to compete in the Canada-Russia Super Series. “I didn’t think when he had his days off he would come to Brandon but that’s the kind of guy he is.”
Although the WHL was nothing new to Luke, he was admittedly nervous while watching his 16-year-old brother prepare for the game against Swift Current on Jan. 11. The nerves, however, weren’t felt on the ice as Brayden opened the scoring less than seven minutes into the game en route to a 4-1 win.
It may have been new for Luke to see his younger brother score in the WHL, but it certainly hasn’t been for the rest of the league. Brayden is among the league’s top rookie scorers and leads all 16-year-olds in points.
Despite coming into training camp with the pressure of not only being the younger sibling of an all-star, Brayden also had expectations from his draft status as the ninth overall pick in 2006.
“You knew he was going to be a good player but I can honestly say he has surprised a lot of us,” Wheat Kings captain Daryl Boyle said. “He’s a 16-year-old who plays like a 20-year-old.”
As Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheat Kings’ head coach and general manager, explained, the turnover of players from last year’s roster helped give Brayden the opportunities but he wouldn’t have seen them without earning it.
“I don’t think of Brayden Schenn’s age when we line up to play,” he said. “I play my best players in situations where I need them to play and he’s one of those guys.”
Those situations have gone beyond power-play time as Brayden has also been one of Brandon’s most reliable defensive forwards. Brayden is a catalyst on one of the league’s top young lines with fellow rookies Scott Glennie and Matt Calvert. The trio has been dubbed the ‘Baby Blue Line’ by teammates, a reference to their youth and coloured jerseys in practice.
“It kind of suits us,” he said with a grin.
Although his teammates enjoy teasing him about his age, it’s always good-natured locker room humour as they know they wouldn’t be where they are without him.
“He’s tremendously respected by his teammates who not only admire his ability and his talent but have a lot of respect for his maturity and leadership,” McCrimmon said.
“In practice he’s pretty dipsy-doodle sometimes so he’s a tough guy to defend,” Boyle added. “I wouldn’t want to be playing against him.”
Luke, however, is looking forward to the challenge as he has had the date marked on his calendar for some time. Since Kelowna and Brandon play in opposite conferences, the chance to play against his younger brother is rare. In fact, Luke missed the first meeting on Dec. 12 while he was away at Canada’s world junior selection camp in Calgary, Alta.
Luckily for the brothers, the Rockets will host the Wheat Kings on Feb. 14, giving them an opportunity to go head-to-head for the first time in the WHL.
“I’ve kind of been looking forward to this game for a while,” Luke said, while adding that the family will be making the trip from Saskatoon. “It’s definitely pretty exciting, especially because it doesn’t happen very often.”
There won’t be any love lost, however, as both want desperately to win and gain bragging rights over the summer. In saying that though, neither was willing to place a wager and chose the modest approach.
“I think he knows all my tricks,” Brayden said. “I just have to keep my head up.”
“I don’t know, he’s got some moves up his sleeve,” Luke responded with a chuckle. “Hopefully we’re both going to have a good game that night and it will be very exciting for us.”
Although Luke will be looking to shut Brayden down in what will be an entertaining match-up on Feb. 14, McCrimmon put it perfectly when describing how close the brothers are.
“I think they’re each other’s biggest fan,” he said.
Just don’t expect them to be smiling at each other on the ice.