HALIFAX – Adam Fantilli has been on the fast track almost his entire hockey life, but he’s had a familiar co-pilot for much of the way.
The speedy centre played ahead of his age group as he rose up in the highly competitive Greater Toronto Hockey League. Then, when his older brother Luca chose to go the prep school route for Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, Adam followed, suiting up as a 15-year-old and skating alongside his brother competitively for the first time.
“It was unreal,” Adam said Friday, on the eve of Canada’s final preliminary game against Sweden. “I mean, to make that decision to leave home and go join him was a tough one. But the second I jumped on the ice for them, it was the best thing ever, so I don’t regret it whatsoever.”
All he did at KUA was produce 18 goals and 18 assists in 26 games playing in a new league and country, against the highest level of players he’d faced, all while balancing the strict academic requirements of one of the better prep schools in New England.
“When he came in here, he was always going a million miles an hour,” said Kimball Union coach Tim Whitehead. “We told him, ‘You don’t always have to go a million miles an hour.’”
This stretch of the fast track – even at 15, Adam was playing on the second line and second power-play unit – not only led to a league championship for Kimball Union, it also helped defenceman Luca break out with a season that earned him a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan.
Adam said he and Luca played together previously on lacrosse teams, but never discussed playing together on the same hockey team because of their two-year age difference. Once it happened, it was like they would be destined to from that point forward.
“The brothers loved playing together and going to the same school and, as it turns out, it was the start of something they would continue,” Whitehead said. “Both handled each other’s success extremely well. And they were each other’s biggest champion, and that is contagious on the team.”
From there, the brothers were offered a deal they couldn’t refuse, to play together with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, one of the premier franchises in a league that has emerged as a legitimate pipeline to the pros.
In his first season with the Steel, Adam exactly replicated his numbers from a season earlier in prep school, scoring 18 goals and adding 18 assists for 36 points, this time in 49 games.
But that was the first year of the pandemic, of course, so his hockey and academic development easily could have taken a hit. Instead, showing the fast track doesn’t always have to centre around hockey, the Fantilli family (with dad Guiliano and mom Julia) reached back out to Whitehead and KUA with the idea of completing their prep school educations virtually.
Hockey in Chicago, virtual school in New Hampshire. It was the best of both worlds and, you could say, a silver lining in the otherwise black cloud that was COVID-19.
Another stellar season followed for Adam, racking up matching 37-37 goals-assists totals for 74 points in 54 games with the Steel.
Which brings us to this season. With credits earned, Adam again followed big brother Luca, this time to the University of Michigan, where he burst out of the gate – yup, fast start, still going a million miles an hour – and already has 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points in 16 games.
The common thread here is speed, sure, but also the comfort of having brothers ride along as they tackle each new stage of their hockey adventure together. The Fantillis, who are the pride of Nobleton, a little town about 45 minutes north of downtown Toronto, roomed together in Chicago and continue to at Michigan.
Which means Luca, who is now 20 to Adam’s 18, must be taking all the credit for his brother’s development.
“I’m taking none,” Luca said, laughing. “He would have been right where he is if had never played with me. But he’s definitely a very special player, and hopefully I helped contribute to that.”
Sharing their hockey development has been mutually beneficial. But to hear Luca tell it, the relationship has benefitted him more than his younger brother, specifically citing Adam’s offensive skills and gym habits as positive influences.
Adam wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t know if that’s the case,” Adam said. “He’s pretty dialled in on what he does; I’m pretty dialled in on what I do. I like to share quite a bit on what I do and what I learned. So, yeah, I like to communicate and try and put it on to all my teammates, because if I find something I think everybody on the team should know, everybody in the team should have that advantage. So, I had to be vocal about things that I learned and maybe that’s where I get that from.”
So, what has big brother shown little brother?
“Quite a bit, to be honest,” Adam said. “He’s a pretty even-keel kid. Being around him has always helped me stay level. He’s been a pretty good support system to bounce ideas off of and he’s a really, really skilled player. So, being able to learn from him and learn that type of game from him was pretty important for me.”
The familiarity for the various transitions has been key, in Luca’s opinion.
“It’s kind of a comfort factor, knowing that you know someone that you grew up with your whole life is right there with you, going through the same thing,” Luca said. “We always talk, and I think that’s definitely helped him and I know it’s definitely helped me get through some tough times on the ice or off the ice, having him there for me. And, hopefully, I did the same for him.”
As with most brothers, the Fantillis know the value of keeping things light, but it’s not all slapstick and pulling of fingers.
“He knows, and I know, when it’s time to come down to business, and we’re both very comfortable with having the hard conversations with each other, and letting each other know what you should be doing better,” Luca said. “I don’t really think I’d be where I am without him.”
And as if we don’t have enough hockey brothers involved here, the Fantillis are also tight with the Hughes brothers – as in Luke, Quinn and Jack, current and future NHLers who have gone through the same process.
“Just asking them questions and getting their personal experience through everything has been a huge help and just to let you know what’s to come,” Luca said.
As for where Adam might want to play in the NHL, you couldn’t go wrong guessing the hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Seeing as that pick might be difficult to swing for the Leafs, another possibility rings true.
“Him and my dad had been kind of diehard Bruins fans, so if he ended up in Boston or something like that, it would be crazy for my family,” Luca said.
At the world juniors, with Canada at 2-0-1-0, Adam has been playing wing and not his usual centre, not on the top line, getting a fraction of the minutes he’s used to. But it doesn’t seem to faze the six-foot, 185-pound forward, who has three points through three games.
“Something that I really pride myself on my game in particular is being able to play up and down a lineup,” he said. “I think I can be useful and then all four lines, so I’m going to try and be as useful as I can where I’m at – and try and do whatever I can to help our team win a gold medal.”
Chances are good that if he does put on that medal, the first text he’ll get will be from big brother Luca.