Q&A: Brady Tkachuk on surging young Senators, his drive to excel

Brady Tkachuck explains how his older brother Matthew helped build the competitive spirit he has today in the NHL.

Brady Tkachuk has been on a tear.

If these were the Middle Ages, Tkachuk’s efforts over the past fortnight would have been called the Holy Crusades.

In his past seven games, the 21-year-old leader of the Ottawa Senators has scored five goals and seven points, with two fights, one power play goal and one game-winning goal. His effort against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday was a singular work of art and mayhem.

Tkachuk scored twice, including the goal to force overtime, pounded Ben Chiarot mercilessly to avenge Chiarot’s previous stick work on Tkachuk housemate Tim Stützle, delivered seven hits, four shots and chipped in with three broken teeth — compliments of a four-minute high sticking penalty to Shea Weber that led to an Ottawa power play goal in the eventual 5-4 shootout victory.

For head coach D.J. Smith, it was a blue-collar-beautiful, grinding effort, led by the King of the Crusade.

“Certainly Brady Tkachuk tonight dragged us into that battle,” Smith said. “I don’t know if he’s had a better game since I’ve been here.”

Tkachuk backed that up with a workmanlike effort Thursday against brother Matthew and the Calgary Flames, a 6-1 Ottawa laugher. No need for a hero’s cape this night, Tkachuk and his mates had this one in hand from the start to reel off the Senators’ first three-game winning streak of the year. Though he was held off the scoresheet, Tkachuk was ever-present on his patrols, with six shots and nine hits in 19:52 of ice time.

Tkachuk leads the NHL in hits with 99 and shots with 95. He leads the Senators in goals (eight), points (15) and heart (is there an analytic measurement for this?)

Less than 24 hours after Ottawa’s battle royale against the archrival in bleu, blanc et rouge — completing a two-game sweep of the Habs — Tkachuk spoke to Sportsnet.ca in a one-on-one interview. To his everlasting credit, No. 7 accepted a reporter’s call immediately after getting major dental repairs. (The question we didn’t ask — which is worse, root canal or reporter probing?). Once again, Tkachuk answers the bell.

Note, this interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. All of the questions stem from a single interview, except for one Zoom Q/A that is noted.

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sportsnet.ca: First of all, how is your mouth doing?

Brady Tkachuk: It’s had better days, but it’s all good. It’s the price you pay to play.

SN: I have to ask, what was your mom’s reaction?

BT: I haven’t spoken to mom yet, the game ended late and I was at the dentist this morning. I will be excited to see her reaction when I FaceTime her.

SN: I’m sure you’re aware, your dad, Keith, was on a podcast recently and predicted you or your brother, Matthew, were going to lose some teeth if you didn’t start wearing your mouth guards properly?

BT: We had a good laugh about it. ‘Ah, karma.’ But I actually had the mouthguard in my mouth and they were able to save the teeth, and get some of the chipped teeth fixed. Some of the teeth got stuck in my mouthguard so I was able to save the other half of the teeth.

It was good I actually had the mouthguard in, if I had a ‘fishhook’ (mouthguard dangling) like I usually do, it could have been a lot worse.

SN: I get the feeling you were born to play in tight, nasty games like that.

BT: Yeah, I think this whole division, with Montreal and Toronto, they’ve been rivals with our team and our organization for a bunch of years now. And this year, playing them eight or nine times, those are games you look forward to.

And now with the Canadian division, it’s like a chance to see who is the best team in Canada, so there is a lot of pride going into it. I think it’s been great for the fans, great for the league. You can’t have fans in the rinks, but for them to watch and rally around their team, it’s been fun. I feel like each fan base has been really involved and really active.

SN: It seemed as though you and your teammates got cheated a bit by not having fans in the CTC for a game like that

BT: We definitely miss having our fans around at the Canadian Tire Centre. It definitely would have been loud. That’s what’s going to make it so special the first time fans can be there. Hopefully soon. It’s going to be something everyone remembers.

SN: Do you carry extra motivation against the Canadiens because they passed on you to draft Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in 2018?

BT: I wouldn’t say there is any extra motivation. This year, it’s such a short year, and each game you want to empty the tank and just leave it all out there.

There’s so much skill in this division. You want to make an impact.

I wouldn’t say there’s any special motivation against any one team. It’s just fun to get up and get right back at it with some rivalry teams.

SN: All of Canada will be keeping an eye on this five-game set between the Tkachuk brothers and the Senators-Flames. How much do you speak with Matthew during the hockey season? And will you be able to visit him away from the rink?

BT: We talk a ton. Usually every day.

With rules and protocols, we will follow those to a T. Hopefully we will be able to see one another. We will have to see what the protocols are, but we will see each other on the ice.

Spending 10 months together during the pandemic, and not being together for the past couple of months, I definitely miss him. And miss seeing the family.

It will be so exciting to see him.

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SN:(From a Thursday Zoom call) Were you able to get in on the pickup games with Matthew and his older friends growing up?

BT: Yeah, whenever he had buddies over we played roller hockey in the driveway. It never really got cold in St. Louis so we could do it all year round.

I was always the young small kid trying to keep up with them and looking back I think it helped me a lot. Matthew always brought me along and made me feel included. As much as he gave it to me, I think he wanted me around just to beat up on me. It was good, it was fun and some great memories we both have.

SN: After a tough start to the season, how much fun has it been winning games recently, with the younger players producing in key situations? I’m thinking of you and Josh Norris, Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Colin White and Erik Brannstrom.

BT: We’re a young team that has faced a lot of adversity this year and we’ve shown a lot of maturity as a group. And we’re learning from those mistakes we made. Now, we’re able to win those tight games we were losing earlier. We’ve become such a better team.

These guys are going to be studs in this league, but what makes it even better, they are just incredible guys and care about winning. And each other.

As a group, we’re happy with how we are right now, but we know each individual can be that much better and keep turning it around.

Everybody in the fanbase and in the city should be excited because there’s a ton of great individuals that are coming up to be part of this team.

SN: Fans want to believe the core of young talent can stay together. Do you guys talk about that, the potential for this group to grow into a long-term contender?

BT: I think we have that belief with one another. Right now we’re playing well, we all have the same dreams and aspirations, we want to win the Stanley Cup and we believe we can, down the road.

There’s a lot of great pieces in that locker room that can win a Cup. I wouldn’t say that’s a big conversation we always have but I think deep down we always have that belief and confidence we feel we’re going to win the Stanley Cup one day. And that’s what we always dream about as kids.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

SN: How cool was it that your entire youth household — you, Stützle and Norris — went 1-2-3 in the shootout lineup vs Montreal?

BT: I was laughing about it on the bench. Josh scored for the household win and I’m the only one who didn’t score.

SN: You nearly did, I think you beat Carey Price with that low shot but it just veered wide. He might have got a piece of it.

BT: Yeah, he made a good save, let’s go with that. We were just happy to get the two points.

It was a gutsy win. We dug in in the third period. Top to bottom, a great win.

SN: Tell me about your roomies, Josh and Tim (‘Jimmy,’ as Brady has named him). Who’s the best cook? Is anyone especially tidy or messy?

BT: Josh is the cook. He’s a great cook, actually. He makes all of our dinners while Jimmy and I just like to hang out and watch TV — and we’ll help out occasionally, but very rarely. I’ll do the dishes.

With Jimmy, he’s probably the messiest one. He’s messy. We clean up after him and just remind him. But it’s all good. We have a good dynamic here, it’s been a lot of fun. We have our roles a little bit around the house. It’s good. We just sit on the couch and watch hockey. Have fun, laugh. Eat dinner and that’s it. We have a good time here.

SN: Does Norris have a go-to dish?

BT: We have steak a lot, so he can whip up a nice steak. We’re pretty plain with our meals. Not making much out of scratch. But he’s our best chef.

SN: Any clashes over musical taste or TV choices?

BT: Josh and I have a similar playlist. And Tim sits in the backseat just hanging out.

We all watch the same thing. Hockey, if there’s a game on. We play a bit of Xbox.

Our musical taste is all over the map. Some country. Hip hop. Rock. Pop. No specific genre.

SN: Norris told me the other night, he had to wake Tim up from a long winter’s nap around 4:15 p.m. to get him to the Montreal game on time.

BT: Jimmy loooooves his sleep. He’s just a happy-go-lucky dude. Loving life.

And loves his sleep.

SN: You mentioned on a Zoom call recently that you don’t really pay attention to your prodigious hit totals or shots on goal. Do you set any personal goals for yourself?

BT: Not really. To be honest, I just want to be the best player I can be. I think everybody wants to be that. Every single day, put in the work. Keep finding ways to elevate your game and I think that is my motivation — be better than I was yesterday. If everybody has the same mindset, we get better as a group and I think you can see that is happening. We’ve become much better than we were on day one.

SN: What sort of things do you work on, individual skills, etc.?

BT: Just little things like skating with the puck a little bit more. A couple of quick strides to get my feet moving and then make the play. I try to work on that. Instead of making the play standing still. You can always work on stickhandling, on improving your shot. Things around the net. Tipping. Screens. Every day try to focus on something different. You can’t do it without teammates and coaches to guide you through it and help you out. I’m appreciative to them for helping me out.

SN: Have you seen a better young player at skating with the puck than Stützle?

BT: Yeah, he is an unbelievable skater.

I joke around with the household, both of them are awesome skaters. They might have to show me some of the things they do. They’re both — Timmy and Josh — very impressive skaters.

SN: Is there any one thing are you looking forward to most when the pandemic is over?

BT: That’s a tough question. Of course, we’re thinking of all the people affected by this pandemic. I don’t know if there’s a specific thing — all of us have to do our part till this is over. Probably just excited to see my family.

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