HELSINKI – There might be only one person who is a more passionate supporter of Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship than John Tavares.
His mom, Barb.
The tournament has turned into an annual event for the family, with John currently starring on the ice for a third straight year and his parents back among the entourage of Canadian friends and family offering support. It’s an event none of them would miss — at least as long as John’s New York Islanders aren’t part of the NHL playoffs.
“Any time there’s anything for Hockey Canada you’re certain to see my face,” Barb Tavares said Sunday before the group gathered for a Mother’s Day brunch.
She is the epitome of a committed hockey mom.
In fact, John Tavares isn’t sure he ever would have scaled the heights he has in hockey without her support. When he was a young phenom just beginning to chase his NHL dream, it was almost always Barb who shuffled him from rink to rink while his father, Joe, was busy running the family business.
“My dad didn’t take me to hockey growing up very much,” said Tavares. “He was always working and working late. My mom’s the one that dealt with a lot of things — getting me to the rink and getting me on the ice and dealing with parents sometimes and giving me the best opportunity to do something I love to do.
“I think what my mom was really good at, she really understood how badly I loved to play and wanted to play and realized when to push me.”
That drive has carried him a long way.
The No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL draft, Tavares has quickly become a go-to player for the Islanders — leading them in scoring each of his three NHL seasons — and a major force for Canada in international competitions. He’s piled up an impressive 16 goals in 20 career world championship games and is centring the team’s top scoring unit here with Jordan Eberle and Jeff Skinner.
Amazingly, at just 21 years old, Tavares is already tied for fifth in goals all-time at this event by a Canadian. Next up on the career list with 18 goals is Steve Yzerman, who will almost certainly be keeping a close eye on Tavares leading up to his selection of Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics.
Kevin Lowe — a member of Yzerman’s management team for the Sochi Games and Canada’s general manager here — has been awfully impressed with what he’s seen so far.
“It’s amazing how much different he looks now than he did two years ago,” said Lowe. “He looks like a man now.”
Time has passed quickly for the Tavares family.
Barb vividly remembers John being selected first overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft by Oshawa at the tender age of 14 and thinking that a four-year junior career would drag on a long time. In September, her son will be starting his fourth NHL season.
Back in the OHL days, she was a constant at games — often making trips around the province each weekend with daughters Laura and Barbara in tow.
“It just kind of worked with the family,” said Barb. “It was basically throw the girls in the car, I had a cooler packed and off we went. We all enjoyed it.”
With both daughters now attending university, she and Joe spend a fair amount of time on the road watching the Islanders play. John thinks his mother has learned to internalize her “intensity” while watching games, but he knows there’s always a fire burning inside.
“She wants to see us succeed and see me succeed because she knows how much I love the game and how hard I work at it,” he said.
His Islanders teammates have taken note of Barb and Joe’s commitment to watching them play. It’s something they even needle Tavares about in the dressing room.
“She’s watching every game,” he said. “It’s funny, her and my dad come so often on the road now that I don’t even go out to eat with them every time. The guys back home on the Island always give me a bit of a hard time about how they should be running the booster club.
“They’ve put in a lot of time and effort with me. I think they’re really proud and just trying to enjoy it all.”
The pride is evident — just as it as among the other seven mothers who made the trip to Helsinki to watch their sons play at the world championship.
Barb broke into a wide smile when asked how it feels to see John wear the Maple Leaf.
“It’s like a dream come true,” she said. “I mean that’s the ultimate — to represent your country, there’s nothing above that.”