If Canada Black forward Jake Leschyshyn ever wants some hockey advice his dad is always there.
Curtis Leschyshyn played 1,033 NHL games as a defenceman and was a member of the 1996 Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche, providing the perfect mentor
for an aspiring son.
So all Jake has to do is ask. He isn’t likely to receive otherwise.
“He was probably 12 years old before I showed him my Stanley Cup ring,” Curtis said. “I try to stay as behind the scenes as possible in terms of what I was
able to do in my career. I don’t need to be flashing it or showing him how I played or what I did. I just want him to be who he is and not have to say,
‘Geez, I have to be like my dad.’
“I know he’s not like that and that’s what I enjoy about seeing Jake (on the ice). He doesn’t try to emulate what I did.”
So as his dad tries to stay in the background, Jake is busy forging his own hockey path. A rookie with the WHL’s Regina Pats, Jake is in the midst of the
next step in his career – competing in the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C.
“You can compare yourself to all the other players of your age group,” said Jake, 16, who calls Saskatoon, Sask., home. “It shows you what you need to do
in order to improve and be the best you can be.”
Coincidentally, that’s the same thing Curtis said about his own experience at the tournament in 1986.
“It was the first time I ever got on a plane to go to the tournament just outside of Montreal,” he said. “I remember we played the Swedes and didn’t do too
well against the Swedes. It was a real eye-opener for me.
“It also gave me a guide of where I needed to get to in terms of how good the players were. It pushed me to get to another level.”
If there’s one trait that links the Leschyshyns together it’s hard work.
Curtis coached Jake last season with the Saskatoon Blazers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League – he guided the defencemen, though – and was proud
of his son’s dogged determination above all else.
It’s the one of the only messages Curtis and his wife, Laura, a former University of Saskatchewan basketball player, ever preached.
“We all know there are a lot of skilled hockey players that play today’s game. But you have to separate yourself somehow,” Curtis said. “Work ethic is part
of what Jake brings every single game to the table.
“I can’t remember a day, even when he was young, that I had to tell him to work harder. Sometimes you had to dial him back.”
Jake got his start playing hockey in Colorado. The Leschyshyns – which include Jake’s two younger sisters – stayed there after Curtis retired following an
unsuccessful attempt to resume his NHL career in 2005 after the lockout.
Jake played on the same team with the son of former NHL rearguard and 2002 Olympic gold medallist Adam Foote. Avalanche centre Matt Duchene also lived at
the Leschyshyn home for a bit, too.
Although Jake was born in North Carolina when Curtis played for the Hurricanes, some of his first hockey memories come from north of the border.
Curtis finished his pro career with the Ottawa Senators and would occasionally bring his son to the rink on off days or during optional skates.
Jake was barely old enough to attend school, but Curtis believes the lessons learned from the likes of Radek Bonk, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Daniel
Alfredsson, Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara were lasting.
“He picked up little habits about how they prepared before practices or what they did in the gym on days off,” Curtis said. “Everything that he’s learned
hasn’t been from me, for sure. I wouldn’t want all that credit because there are lots of people who have influenced Jake in one way or another.”
And that’s why Curtis is relatively laissez-faire when it comes to Jake’s hockey career.
“He lets my coaches in Regina do the coaching,” Jake said. “He chimes in every once in a while after games and gives me some things that he notices while
watching games and how I can improve in those areas. It’s just little things. It’s not big things at all.”
Instead, he provides the odd tip like reassuring Jake to be calm with the puck on his stick.
While Jake has just three assists in 16 games with the Pats this season, Curtis doesn’t feel the need to bombard him with constructive feedback.
“His hands are better than mine were. He can score better than I ever could,” Curtis said. “The offensive part of the game – his skill’s probably better
today than mine ever was as a pro player.”