TORONTO — Despite helping his three sons reach the pro ranks, Karl Subban is the first to admit he’s no hockey expert.
Subban does know potential, however. And having spent more than 30 years as an educator, Subban has plenty of experience in unlocking it.
The 59-year-old Subban, whose five kids include sons P.K. (Nashville Predators), Malcolm (Las Vegas Golden Knights) and Jordan (AHL Utica Comets), offers up life lessons, family stories and words to live by in his new book "How We Did It."
Subban delivers his advice to parents and kids in easily digestible bites. "How We Did It" is a good read with plenty of substance.
He had no interest writing a hockey book. Instead he wanted "to tell a story that would be a difference-maker to whoever cared to listen to my message."
Hence the book’s subtitle: "The Subban plan for success in hockey, school and life."
While the book details the childhood of his hockey-playing sons — and two oldest daughters — the gregarious Subban has his eye on the bigger picture.
In his role as a Toronto school principal, Subban says he would often ask students a simple question: "Anyone who wants to be better, raise your hand."
"Every hand shot up," he writes. "That should come as no surprise — every child wants to be better. The problem is too many don’t believe they can be."
Subban calls it a crisis among our children — too many adrift, lacking the direction and support they need until they can find their own way.
He believes everyone is born with the gift of potential inside them. He calls it the GPS — Growing Potential System. It just needs someone to help develop that potential.
Sometimes plans don’t work out, he writes. "But if you stay true to the spirit behind them, they can lead to something better."
Subban recalls how, at the age of 12, he moved with his family from Jamaica to Sudbury, Ont., where his father, who had arrived two months earlier, had found work as a diesel mechanic at a mine.
He started watching hockey on TV, following the Montreal Canadiens on the French channel. Ken Dryden became his hockey hero.
Basketball soon overtook hockey, however, and the sport took Subban — dreaming of the NBA — to Lakehead University.
"I learned a very important lesson too, that dreams and goals must be realistic. I wasn’t going to make the NBA."
Coaching during the summer — his pupils at the time included co-author Scott Colby — Subban realized he enjoyed working with kids. Having found his calling, he went to teachers’ college after graduating from Lakehead.
"We all have a sleeping giant inside of us — it’s another way to think of our potential," he writes. "We must find the thing that awakens it and brings it to life."
Hockey drove his boys — daughters Taz (who played basketball at York University) and Natasha are both teachers — and Subban and wife Maria were happy to help them.
It started at the local rink.
"Skating was something we did as a family. We didn’t do it to raise NHLers," said Subban.
The Subban kids practised their sports. Being good at something at a young age builds self-confidence, Subban believes.
P.K. was not short on self-confidence or talent. As a five-year-old playing with six-year-olds, he scored 19 of his team’s 21 goals. And he has always enjoyed a stage.
After switching from the elite Toronto Red Wings to the Mississauga Reps as a 10-year-old because of his father’s disagreement with the coach, P.K. scored four goals and added an assist in a 5-1 upset win over his former team.
Still, Subban says he never confused the roles of dad and hockey dad. "I never forgot the most important one," he added.
Today P.K. is one of the NHL’s elite defenceman, a showman off and on the ice.
Another kernel of advice Subban likes to use is "Be yourself because everyone else is taken."
"Guess what, there’s only one P.K.," he said with a laugh.
"What you see on TV, what you see on the ice and off the ice, that’s always been P.K.," Subban added. "He has not changed."
One of Subban’s proudest moments was in 2015 when P.K., then playing for the Canadiens, announced a pledge to raise $10 million over seven years for Montreal Children’s Hospital.
"He scored many goals on the ice, many memorable goals. But that goal that he announced that day was one of the most important ones," said Subban.
"Sometimes it’s the goals between your ears that are most important."
Subban says today’s kids face more distractions and uncertainty than ever. Growing up, he says he knew he would find a job, have a family and buy a home.
Now the future can seem cloudy.
Subban recently came out of retirement to return as principal of Brookview Middle School in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
His current gig is short-term, but it’s a chance to keep working at a school where he says he spent the most fulfilling years of his teaching career before being transferred elsewhere.
"I did not want to leave," he said of Brookview. "Because we are losing so many children. And maybe I can’t save them all but Karl Subban’s going to try."