They share two similar names that have added another layer of convenience when it comes to linking them most likely now and forever in hockey lore. But Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin took different roads in the first steps of their hockey careers – two paths that will come together late Friday afternoon at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the site of the NHL Entry Draft.
And regardless of whose name is called first, the initial two selections of the 2010 draft (barring an incredible turn of events) will be proud moments for their families. They will also serve as a way for the two best 18-year-old hockey players in the world right now to say thank you for all the rides to the rink, the early morning practices, the advice, the encouragement and an always loving shoulder to cry on when a game was lost or a body part bruised.
The debate of who should be taken No. 1 overall by the Edmonton Oilers has raged for most of the hockey season, gaining even more steam when Seguin usurped Hall for top spot in the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings.
Off the ice, Seguin and Hall are cordial, but not quite close friends. And despite the competitive fire that’s been no doubt fueled by playing for two teams that are geographically close – the Plymouth Whalers and Windsor Spitfires – the two teenagers haven’t displayed the type of animosity that would help the NHL media mob sell papers, start a battle royale over the blogosphere and pump up television ratings. But the whole “Taylor vs. Tyler” media madness might never have taken root, had their fathers had a little more say in naming their sons after they were first born.
“To be quite honest with you, I didn’t want Tyler,” says Paul Seguin, noting the name was his wife Jackie’s choice, picked from a book. “I was more on the Catholic side, so I wanted Jacob. I thought that would have been a great name because then you could call him Jake.”
Apparently, that idea wasn’t going to fly with the Seguin women as Paul’s mom joined Jackie in putting the kibosh on dad’s handle of choice for his only son.
“We just thought Jake was too rough,” says Jackie.
“Now because there are so many Tylers in the world, Tyler’s like ‘Geez dad, I wish mom would have listened to you,’” adds Paul.
Like Seguin, Taylor was also mom’s choice when it came time for Kim Strba to name her pride and joy. Despite the fact that her husband, Steve Hall, a former CFL receiver, caught his first pro football pass at Taylor Field in Regina, that wasn’t where she found the name.
“It makes for a good story, but I never would have allowed sports to get in on his name,” says Kim, adding she picked the name Taylor because it was cute. “Steve would have ended up naming him Tiger or something.”
Taylor Hall’s start in hockey came thanks to his mom and an ad in a Calgary newspaper.
The announcement was for sign-ups to the local team and Kim didn’t think twice about putting her only child into the sport in which she had dabbled as a youngster.
“I thought, he’s five years old. He’s Canadian. Time to play hockey,” says Kim matter-of-factly.
Steve immigrated to Canada from Australia as an infant so hockey wasn’t really a part of his upbringing; although, he says he enjoyed skating and would have loved the opportunity to play.
“You know, if we had left it up to (Steve) I don’t know if he would have ever registered Taylor in hockey, probably at some point, but for me it was really a big part of my life as a kid,” says Kim.
She came from a large family, six siblings in all, and much of their time was spent outdoors skating on an outdoor rink in a field close to the family home in the small northern Ontario community of Kirkland Lake. Every Saturday night at the Strba household was spent with the family in front of the TV watching the Original Six duke it out on Hockey Night in Canada. She didn’t play organized hockey, but like most kids Kim would grab her skates after school and head down to the rink. She was the one wearing the Boston Bruins jersey with the No. 4 on the back.
“I was a big Bobby Orr fan,” says Kim, who eventually met her hero when Canada’s preeminent defenceman became Taylor’s agent. “It was absolutely amazing. You think about the way life goes some times, just to think that he was my idol and then 35 years later he’s sitting in my living room.”
And while Steve had a different kind of affinity for hockey, he had no qualms about building a giant outdoor rink in the backyard of the family home in Calgary. It was there that Taylor first honed his skills, doing his best to evade “Scott Stevens,” the name given the big tree serving as a large obstacle in the middle of the ice.
“(My dad) always made me backyard rinks and that was probably the best thing that he’s ever done,” says Taylor.
And since Steve loved indulging his son’s playfulness, the dad happily became goalie, guard, catcher, receiver or whatever Taylor required his father to be for the sport they were playing.
“Most guys are big kids and Taylor didn’t have any brothers or sisters,” says Steve. “So I was the next biggest kid around.”
Despite being an only child, it wasn’t uncommon for the Hall-Strba household to be full of skaters at any given time because their big backyard rink was the talk of the neighbourhood, what with its end boards, nets and even lights for night-time skates.
“I’d make hot chocolate and take it out to them with bottles of water,” Kim says. “They’d have quite the games out there.”
Every given moment Hall wasn’t in school, he’d be out on the home ice skating and shooting pucks with or without adversaries or teammates. One year Taylor didn’t start school until 9:30 in the morning, so he’d hit the ice before school and play again after school on evenings and on weekends.
“When you enjoy doing something, it just becomes a real passion,” says Steve Hall. “At some point this became a passion for him and he really started to find his niche.”
When he wasn’t skating outside, Taylor was playing in Calgary’s minor hockey system. The first year in organized hockey was a learning experience, not only for the player but for the parents as well. There was one game in which Taylor, a slick skater even in those early days, kept falling down. It wasn’t until one of Steve’s buddies asked if Taylor’s skates had been sharpened – the proud papa hadn’t realized that skates needed to be sharpened.
Then, there was the time Kim failed to secure Tyler’s hockey pants only to have them fall down by game’s end, exposing to a bemused crowd her son’s favourite pair of Batman underwear.
“They stayed up the whole game and then just as he was skating off the ice I realized, ‘Ahhhhhhh! Oh, my goodness his pants are falling off!’ ”
Seguin’s exposure to hockey began almost at birth, with the game planted firmly in his DNA. His grandfather, Marcel Seguin, played semi-pro with the Buffalo Bisons and had skated against the likes of Hall of Famers Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull.
Tyler’s father was a tough defenceman who was good enough to earn a full NCAA hockey scholarship at the University of Vermont and his mother was a star forward with the Brampton Canadettes, playing the highest level of hockey available for women at the time.
“Hockey is our whole family,” says Paul Seguin. “It’s what we’ve always been, not just my generation, but also my father’s generation.”
The sport was also a big part of Jackie Seguin’s childhood as both her brothers played high-calibre hockey as well.
“All three of us played and we had fun with it, just like our kids,” she says.
Both Tyler’s sisters – Candace, 15, and Cassidy, 11 – also play organized ice and roller hockey with older girls in Brampton, making Canada’s national pastime a family affair.
“Hockey was everything that a Northern Ontario kid was,” says Paul who grew up next door to future NHL goaltender Darren Puppa in Kirkland Lake, where there was always a frozen pond waiting for a game of shinny to be played.
Even before Tyler could walk, Jackie would take her newborn son to the rink to watch his dad play in a local men’s league.
“He was accustomed to the rink, he was used to always seeing dad with hockey sticks,” says Paul. “As soon as he could pick up a hockey stick and start skating, that’s what he was going to do.”
When Tyler was a toddler, Jackie would frequently take him to the local rink for mother-and-tot skates. She would be skating and pushing Candace in the stroller while Tyler first learned how to glide on the ice by pushing a small red chair to help provide a little balance and a big confidence boost.
“I would do that all the time with him and he loved it,” says Jackie.
In fact, he loved hockey and skating so much that no other toy outside of his favourite mini-hockey stick could hold his attention. Jackie says she tried to tempt him with other toys, but Tyler wouldn’t budge.
“I would buy him Tonka trucks so he could play in the sand, but all he wanted was a mini-stick, that’s it,” says Jackie. “I always used to say, ‘This kid’s not normal.’ That’s all he would do all day is shoot with the mini-stick.”
By the age of three, Tyler had developed a passion for wearing inline roller skates and was constantly whipping around the house or driveway.
Luckily for Tyler, the family had a large basement where Paul covered the walls with blue tarp and set down flooring so the kids could use their inline skates. He also set up an area for his little sniper to shoot pucks at targets and into a net.
“If he wasn’t shooting pucks in the net or at targets, then I was in net and he was shooting on me. I’d be teaching him stuff about shooting,” says Paul. “So he was pretty much in the house (playing) when he wasn’t outside playing road hockey with his buddies.”
When the Seguins couldn’t put four-year-old Tyler in a league near their home in Whitby, Ont., because hockey wasn’t offered for his age group, they signed him up to play in Toronto’s West Hill minor hockey association. As a five-year-old, he was playing house league but had to be bumped up to the older rep team because many of the parents were getting upset with his knack for scoring goals.
“He was scoring 10 goals in a game and just doing ridiculous stuff in house league,” says Paul, who coached Tyler up until he was 10. “I just thought, ‘Well he’s younger and he’s just starting and it’s just because he’s a better skater than everybody. You know everybody will eventually catch up, but that never really happened.”
It was tough to catch up because, as Tyler readily admits, he was lucky enough to get his mom Jackie’s scoring touch.
“I had my fair share of goals and a lot of assists,” says Jackie, who also played in a local ladies league.
Paul thinks he might have passed on a skating gene or two.
“He definitely has the soft touch from his mother and his skating from his dad probably,” he says. “Definitely through junior I was a fighter and I was a rough hard-hitting defenceman, but the reason I got a scholarship to the U.S. was because I could skate on those bigger ice surfaces.”
Kim Strba first met Steve Hall when they were both students at the University of Guelph, where she was studying Political Science and he was in Environmental Studies. Their first meeting came when he took her roommate out on a couple of dates. They met again a few years later after Kim transferred to the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., which was Steve’s hometown. Steve was convalescing at home after suffering an injury during his early days as a wide receiver in the CFL and met up with Kim through a mutual friend.
Their courtship lasted a full six years, a lot of it long distance while Steve was playing football in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa. With no marriage proposal in sight, Kim took charge.
“I had to back him into a corner,” says Kim. ”I had to say to him, ‘OK well, let’s either get married or…what are we going to do?’”
Steve agreed and three weeks later they were married in London. By that time, however, his football career was over and he was a full-time bobsledder with the Canadian national team in Calgary, so she moved west with him the day after their wedding.
When Taylor was 13 and Steve’s bobsled career was over, they decided to move to Kingston, Ont., to be closer to their families.
“It was time to be around family and let Taylor know his cousins and just hang out on a more relaxed basis for a long weekend-type thing at somebody’s cottage rather than it being a big ordeal every summer coming home two weeks from Calgary,” says Kim, who works in the staffing department at Kingston General Hospital.
Single and living on her own, the then-Jackie Jenkins was a busy woman holding down two jobs in her hometown of Brampton, Ont. After her full-time job with Worker’s Compensation, she would pick up extra part-time shifts at O’Toole’s, a neighborhood bar. It was there she first met Paul Seguin, who had just returned home for the summer after another season of going to school at the University of Vermont. The pub was the local hangout for Paul and his friends so he’d see Jackie often.
Eventually they started to meet outside of her work, and then they started dating.
After three years of going out together, Paul decided to propose at a Kelsey’s restaurant. While Jackie went to the bathroom, he conspired with the wait staff to hide the ring so he could pop the question.
“I put the ring inside a piece of cake,” says Paul, who now owns his own business. “The rest, as they say, is history.”
With both fathers being former elite-level athletes, it only makes sense they would impart their knowledge of the sporting life’s trials and tribulations to their sons.
When they weren’t playing hockey, Seguin was excelling at lacrosse and cross-country running and Hall tore up the field in soccer and baseball.
Taylor says he’s benefitted most from his dad’s training expertise, a lot of which Steve picked up while training with Bobsleigh Canada as both pusher and driver of a four-man crew. Steve says the kind of plyometric work they’ve done in the gym has helped Taylor develop his skating with short, fast bursts of acceleration. But mostly, Steve says he wants only two things from Taylor on the ice: to have fun and compete. As such, he still helps Taylor prepare as much as possible for games – both mentally and physically.
“Being forearmed is forewarned, so you need to know what you’re getting into before you lace them up,” says Steve. “You need to know what you’re going to do with the puck before you get it.”
There was never any talk about Taylor following in Steve’s footsteps as a football player, though the pair still throw the pigskin around as part of their training regimen, which tries to incorporate as much fun as possible.
“(Footballs) are easy to throw and it’s good hand-eye coordination,” says Steve. “We don’t just go and lift weights and all the grunt work, you’ve got to try to have fun, right?”
Steve, like Paul Seguin, believes that no matter what sport his son chose, he would have shined because he has the natural gift.
In Paul’s case, he wanted to make sure Tyler avoided the pitfalls that derailed his pro hockey career. At Vermont he roomed with John LeClair, who would go on to star in the NHL as a dominant power forward whose accomplishments included a Stanley Cup title in Montreal. Between LeClair and Tom Draper, a goaltender who would go on to play with the Buffalo Sabres, Paul saw the kind of extra commitment and dedication needed to make it to the next level.
“I wasn’t making all the sacrifices that they were making,” says Paul. “I would see John and other players working out and doing extra things when they didn’t have to. Staying away from all the fun, all the celebration – the beer with your buddies and even the girls. I was so wrapped up in the fun of playing college hockey that I didn’t make those sacrifices.
“I said, ‘Tyler, you can learn from my story’ and he’s constantly made those sacrifices and continues to do so.”
Paul says he learned the hard way so that Tyler wouldn’t have to, and often reminds his son that the best celebrations are the ones yet to come and those will be worth more because of all the extra effort put in to attain them. Paul often regrets missing out on a longer hockey career, but says Tyler’s success has brought out a sense of pride and accomplishment as a parent.
“In some ways the greatest gift I’ve received over the past five years is just vicariously living through my son,” says Paul. “Just the great experiences that he’s having right now heading into the draft.”
Both sets of parents say they aren’t concerned with whether their kids walk up to the podium on the Staples Center floor first or second on Friday. They share their sons’ excitement about the opportunities coming their way and feel proud of their past accomplishments. And they should. All those early morning car rides to the rink, weekends away at tournaments, registration fees, equipment costs, the advice, the building of rinks – indoor and out – have played a leading role in their sons’ development as budding hockey stars – and good people.
And since the moms – Kim and Jackie – had the first say in naming their sons, it’s only fitting that they share the final words on the NHL draft since they’ve both said the same thing:
“I’ll be glad when this is all over.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Jr. Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org