OTTAWA – It’s not exactly headline material that two members of Matthew Tkachuk’s family went on the record Friday as staunch defenders of his controversial approach to the game.
However, what is significant was a point made by his father, Keith, who knows a thing or two about character.
About selling the game.
Shrugging off the noise that has followed his son’s role in last weekend’s brouhaha, Keith took a wide-lense view of what it really is that has everyone talking about the Battle of Alberta again.
“The game, probably for the last few years, lacked personality,” said Keith, who logged 500 goals and 2200 penalty minutes over 18 NHL seasons.
“And I think it’s starting to come back.”
“When I first came in, probably half the league didn’t hear about a big body check or a big fight, so it wasn’t a big deal. But it is what it is now. That’s the world we live in now with social media.”
Everyone’s a critic.
And in this case, everyone has an opinion on Zack Kassian and Matthew, who singlehandedly resurrected the provincial war by playing the game with an edge.
Who, if anyone, was out of line, still has the hockey world abuzz.
It says plenty that at the tail end of the Calgary Flames-Toronto Maple Leafs shootout Thursday at Scotiabank Arena, Matthew was the only player booed as he skated in from centre ice before scoring the game-winner.
The villain wins again.
In the entertainment world Matthew thrives in, we need more leaders who are confident, smart enough and skilled enough to wear the black hat.
To draw people in.
To drum up interest.
Yes, the game needs more personality.
“I think so, yeah,” agreed Matthew’s younger brother, Brady, a budding character himself, whose Senators will host the Flames on Saturday in front of 40 friends and family members.
“You can almost say it rekindled the Battle of Alberta and stuff like that. I think they’re just two teams that hate one another and I think that’s great for the game. It just shows how emotional, whether it’s Game 1 or Game 41 or Game 82, playoffs … everybody is putting their heart and soul on the line for one another and trying to get those crucial two points, because they add up at the end. It just shows how both those cities are so passionate, with the fans. It’s definitely great that it rekindled that and other rivalries.”
Dad shrugs off the intense heat his eldest son has attracted of late, praising Matthew’s thick skin and maturity for making him one of the most skilled, calculating and polarizing players today.
(Admittedly, the vitriol hasn’t been quite as easy for mom to stomach.)
If anyone knows just how hard it is to get the best of Matthew, it’s his little bro.
“He has the thickest skin I’ve ever seen,” said Brady.
“He is so good at blocking stuff out like that, and all the negativity. You’ve seen it, his game is still top-end, even with all the distractions recently. That just speaks about his mental game, as well.
“I just know from personal experience, always being around him, that he doesn’t let stuff bother him. I think that’s something that is huge. Sometimes, there’s a lot of negativity toward somebody, so to block that out and still play your game, it’s pretty impressive.”
Is Brady bothered by the “turtle” tag and heat affixed to Matthew for refusing to be drawn into a fight with Kassian?
“I wouldn’t say it bugs me,” said Brady, who Matthew praised as the “future of the franchise” on Friday.
“I just think that there are people that are complaining about kind of nothing. Because if they thought they were dangerous hits (on Kassian), the league would have suspended him. I just think people need to kind of relax a little bit. But like I said, Matthew will do anything to win and he showed it that game and ended up being a crucial part for that fourth goal that ended up with Calgary winning the game and getting those two huge points and being at the top of their division.”
As someone who has looked up to Matthew his whole life, Brady’s allegiance runs deep. Obviously.
Brady is also a highly competitive talent, who will be joining his brother at all-star games in the very near future. The six-foot-four power forward has one less goal than big brother’s 15, but more penalty minutes since joining the loop last year.
“We were always so competitive growing up, whether it was sports or other things around the house,” said Brady.
“I think that’s something we both share and something we kind of learned from one another.
“I think he did a great job that game. He’s one of those guys that with a big stage he’s usually the best player. That’s just the type of guy he is. In a matter of first-place games, he’s going to show up.”
The hockey world needs more Tkachuks.
It needs more characters.
“I would agree with that,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving.
“Look back in time and there were the villains. We’ve sanitized it a bit. There’s nothing wrong with emotion.
I love how he plays with emotion and it gets our team engaged. We certainly don’t want him changing. He’s a throwback.”
Just like dear ol’ Dad.