In hockey, it’s never easy to have a famous name on the back of your jersey.
It’s even harder when the man behind that name stands behind you on the bench every time you’re on the ice.
But Regina Pat Canadians captain Owen Sillinger seems to be handling the pressure just fine.
Owen is the son of long-time NHLer Mike Sillinger, who might be best known for being the most traded player in NHL history, but also happened to play over 1,000 games, be a captain in the NHL and win a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Mike is also an assistant coach with the Pat Canadians, and has had a front-row seat to his son’s performance not only at Canada’s National Midget Championship, but all season long.
After leading Regina in regular season and playoff scoring, Owen was honoured Friday night at the 2015 TELUS Cup awards banquet, taking home Top Scorer and Top Forward honours for his 14-point performance in the round robin, along with the big prize – the TELUS Cup MVP award.
“The big thing with Owen is that he’s a late developer,” Mike says. “He didn’t get the opportunity to play AAA at 15 because he simply wasn’t big enough. Now, we’re almost the same size and after having a good season last year, he’s followed up with an exceptional one.”
On first glance, it would appear to be a delicate balancing act between being a father and being a coach, particularly at the higher levels of minor hockey, but the junior Sillinger says that’s not the case.
“Most people think that having the father and son relationship would make him pretty pushy, but honestly he’s just looking to give back to the community,” Owen says of playing for his father. “He works the defense and our two other coaches run the offense and that’s perfect.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s not a little bit of teaching going on. After, Mike did have 548 NHL points, and three seasons of 100+ points in the WHL, so he wouldn’t exactly be classified as offensively challenged.
“He mostly shares what the typical father says: work hard and display a great work ethic,” Owen says. “He was a face-off specialist in the NHL so he’s taught me a great deal in that department because I’m a centre as well. He’s also taught me a lot about focusing on the things you can control.”
After a hip injury ended Mike’s career in 2009, the Sillinger family returned to his hometown of Regina, just as Owen, the oldest of three boys, entered his formative minor hockey years.
After averaging more than a point per game with the Regina Oilers (Bantam AA) in 2011-12 and Regina Wild (Midget AA) in 2012-13, Owen set his sights on the Pat Canadians, where Mike was about to join the staff.
“When Brad Herauf took over as head coach two years ago, he asked me if I wanted to help out,” said Sillinger, a legends in Regina hockey circles. “I was honoured, but I was also hoping my kid would make the team too.
“I [just] didn’t want people to think that I was coaching to get my kid on the hockey club. It speaks for itself that he was good enough to make the team, but you’re always careful about what people think of the coach-dad relationship.”
While gold is the goal in Rivière-du-Loup, the 2015 TELUS Cup holds a deeper meaning for father and son.
The week is about new experiences, about enjoying the final days of minor hockey, and about one last chance for Owen to pull on a jersey both Sillingers hold so close to their hearts.
“It’s very special,” Mike says. “Because I played with the [Regina] Pats [in the WHL] as a sixteen year-old, all my buddies at the time had the opportunity to play in the Air Canada Cup back in ’88, and they won it. I guess I felt like I missed out on something back then after seeing them enjoying such success.
“In a sense, it’s more gratifying now as a coach. The boys understand that it’s not every kid who has the opportunity to do this. They’ve learned that it’s all about chemistry and it shows that they care for each other. They’ll do anything for each other and it’s a big thing to put the team first.”