The stories of future NHL stars learning how to play hockey around their homes have often become the stuff of legend.
Wayne Gretzky’s outdoor rink at his childhood home in Brantford, Ontario is arguably the most famous piece of backyard real estate in Canadian history.
Sidney Crosby’s old family dryer – which is riddled with dents and puck marks – has been on display at a museum in Nova Scotia.
And perhaps it’s time for the reinforced front windows at the Tkachuk household in St. Louis to be added to the list of the most iconic childhood stories in NHL history. After all, they might be the only family in hockey history to have their front windows protected with real plexiglass from an NHL arena.
When Keith Tkachuk was playing for the Blues, his two sons Matthew and Brady were learning the game like most kids by playing on the driveway. However, unlike most kids who use a tennis ball or an orange hockey ball outside, the Tkachuk boys were using a real puck so they could learn how to shoot properly.
And as you might expect, with a couple of boys around the ages 12 and 10, accuracy was not their strong suit.
“One day it got to the point where I was watching TV and the puck came flying thru the window and almost killed me,” laughs Keith. “Glass everywhere. It was a double window and it still came thru. That must have been Brady shooting because he had a harder shot than Matthew.”
Indeed, it was the younger Tkachuk who was the culprit on that afternoon. And this came even after he had a specific warning from his mom Chantal about where they were shooting the puck.
“I think the day before we broke the outer window and my mom said ‘Alright – don’t shoot at the net towards the house. Shoot on the other one,’” recalls Brady. “I guess I missed the net and put the puck right through the window. I remember my brother and I looking at each other and we slowly went inside the house.”
Instead of receiving a tongue-lashing and a punishment when they sheepishly walked in the front door, the boys were spared due to Keith’s soft spot for seeing his boys outside playing the game he loved.
“I didn’t care. At least they were out there playing and working on their game,” says Keith.
But that afternoon, the eldest Tkachuk did reach a breaking point – pun intended – with his front window.
“Multiple, multiple windows were broken with pucks going through, but after about the tenth or twelfth time, I’m like ‘Let’s get it going. We gotta figure something out here,’” Keith said.
“Pretty soon after that,” Brady recalls, “the plexiglass came in.”
When Keith went back to the Scottrade Center – which was the home of the Blues – he connected with the arena workers to help him find a solution to his perpetual cycle of broken front windows.
They determined it was possible to protect the family’s front window by using the same plexiglass that is used around the boards inside NHL arenas. After taking some measurements, the ice crew came to the Tkachuk home to do a personal installation. And to the passerby, they wouldn’t have known that anything drastic had been done to the house to protect it from the parade of errant flying pucks.
“It didn’t really look any different. The Blues guys who came over from the rink to set it up - they measured it perfectly with our windows - so nothing really changed,” recalls Brady. “It was the same house.”
The home didn’t look any different, which allowed Brady to dazzle his friends once the windows had been protected by the plexiglass.
“I kind of showed it off to my friends. I’d be like ‘Hey watch this’, then I would try and hit the window and it would bounce back and make that noise and it wouldn’t break,” says Brady.
“And they’d be like ‘What is that?’
“And I would say ‘Oh it’s just the plexiglass from the rink.’”
While his windows were spared, Keith remembers his ears taking a beating from the constant sound of pucks hitting the plexiglass outside his front window. “It was great, but man it made a lot of noise,” he says.
Brady even admits the installation of plexiglass didn’t do anything to help with their shooting accuracy.
“Then we started to miss the net on purpose just so we could hear the sound of the plexiglass,” Brady says.
Keith says the Tkachuk family also had to replace the garage door every couple of years as well – although that wasn’t solely because of pucks doing the damage.
“The garage doors is where the hitting took place. It was always big hits by the garage doors,” Brady says of practicing bodychecking with Matthew. “I think that helped with the competitive nature between my brother and I.”
The youngest Tkachuk says the damage was isolated to their own property and they never received any objections from those living around them.
“No complaints from our neighbours. The only damage we did was to our windows and the garage doors,” he says.
While he was extremely lenient and patient with his sons’ destructive tendencies, Keith isn’t completely sure he has a definitive list of all of the damage the two boys did while they were growing up.
“I’m sure there are other things that they broke,” chuckled Keith. “Like if I was on the road and they probably went running to their mom and said ‘Don’t tell dad.’”