All in the Name
The Link Sits Down With Stingers’ Adam Nugent-Hopkins and Brother Ryan of the Edmonton Oilers
If you’re from Edmonton, you’ve probably heard the name Nugent-Hopkins mentioned at least once—it’s starting to become a household name. But if you live in Montreal, you wouldn’t think there’d be another one in our very own backyard.
Indeed, there are two Nugent-Hopkins brothers—both play hockey and both are young, but most of all, both are humble.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 20, was the no. 1 draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers back in 2011 and has been a centrepiece in the team’s recent youth movement. Adam, 25, is a rookie for Concordia’s men’s hockey team.
Growing up in Burnaby, B.C., the two sons of Roger Hopkins and Debbie Nugent developed a passion for hockey as young boys.
“I remember a few times we tried making our very own backyard rink,” said Adam, reminiscing of his youth. “It just ended up flooding the entire backyard; our parents weren’t too happy with that. Especially when Amber [the family dog] would come in all muddy.”
“We did throw some great road hockey games though in the backyard,” said Ryan, now in his third year playing in the NHL.
Though there’s a five-year age difference between the two brothers, they say it didn’t keep them from building a strong bond as kids.
“Growing up, we were the closest of friends,” said Ryan. “Being the younger brother I learned a lot from [Adam]. And even now we’re able to stay close and it’s always really good to see each other when usually we wouldn’t be able to.”
The brothers say they try to stay in contact, regularly talking whenever they can, but that they know not to bug each other too much.
“When you get the chance, it’s always nice to see your brother,” said a smiling Adam at the Verdun Auditorium this past week.
Ryan was in town to play the Montreal Canadiens last Tuesday night—only his second career game in the city. The Oilers won 4-3.
“We’re always there for each other and that’s what really matters,” said Adam. “Family is first and always foremost.”
The brothers’ tight bond isn’t to say they were the perfect poster boys as kids and that they didn’t have their moments while still living under the same roof. But it was never anything too serious.
“Like any brother relationship we had our fair share of scraps,” said a laughing Ryan, “As long as [Adam] was the one who got in trouble, I was fine.”
“Yeah, Ryan would love to go crying and running to mom,” Adam quipped.
One day that the two siblings will never forget is June 24, 2011—the day Ryan was selected no. 1 overall in the NHL draft in St-Paul, Minnesota.
“The whole weekend was surreal, [it] was a pretty crazy feeling,” recalled Ryan. “It was a lot of fun, and a great trip for the family. Even my billet family [the family who takes you in during your junior hockey years] came down and that was extra special.”
Surprisingly, it wasn’t Ryan who was most anxious on draft day. Rather, it was his brother who couldn’t contain himself.
“I was probably more nervous than he was,” said Adam. “It was still up in the air where he was going, and it was really nerve-racking. You want him to be the best he can be.”
But those nerves died down quickly when it was announced Edmonton had selected Ryan first overall.
“Edmonton was a great fit, a great team in the rebuilding mode with all its young players,” said Adam. “And definitely as a family we wanted him to go there because it was closer to home—and I know how important that is for Ryan. Having played junior in Red Deer [for the Western Hockey League Rebels], all his friends were there,” he continued.
Three years later, Ryan has certainly lived up to the expectations that come with being the top pick in the draft. In last year’s World Junior Championship, he helped lead Canada to the bronze medal game and was the tournament’s point leader with 15.
In the NHL, he’s scored 86 points over his first three seasons as a centre for the Oilers—third-most on the team in that span behind star players Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
“It was a great fit then, and obviously has worked out perfectly—the next step is [for us to start] winning,” said Adam.
You would expect that standing in the shadow of his younger brother would make the Stingers defenceman jealous, but he says it’s just the opposite.
“I never, ever think of it that way—I’m more proud of all of what he’s done,” Adam said. “I’d rather put the pressure on myself to be successful—and be the best me I can be. That’s what counts for me.”
You would also expect that Adam, paying to play university hockey, would be jealous of his younger brother’s seven-year, US$42 million contract extension signed in September.
“To be honest, I just congratulated him on it,” said Adam. “We come from humble beginnings, so money isn’t really a foundation, you could say. It’s great; he’s set for life, and I’m happy and proud for him.”
It’s the kind of money offered to leaders. And as a former no. 1 overall pick playing for a young, rebuilding team, Ryan knows he needs to be one.
“Our team is a very young squad and we feel a bit of pressure, but we have to stop using the excuse that we’re a young team, and play our game,” said Ryan, confident his 3-8-2 Oilers, currently in last place in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference, can turn it around.
“Our next stop is the playoffs.”
He’s not the only Nugent-Hopkins being counted on to lead. As one of the older members of the Stingers, Adam is doing his best to help guide his own young team to the postseason.
“I know that being one of the older guys I try to offer the guys as much as guidance as I can,” said Adam. “I give my best, stay positive and try to lead by example.”
So far, so good: The Stingers currently sit in fourth place in the Ontario University Athletics Eastern Conference with a 2-1-2 record, Adam credited with an assist in the team’s 10-3 home opener win over Royal Military College last Friday.
“We’re definitely on the right track,” said Adam. “We have a great program, a great coaching staff and some very good players. Making a run for the national championship isn’t a far goal.”
The team’s season opener, on Oct. 9, was Adam’s first competitive regular season hockey game in seven years.
Over that span, he took a hiatus from the game to be a strength and conditioning coach, helping young athletes reach their top fitness level. One such athlete was his younger brother, spending the last two years as Ryan’s own strength and conditioning coach.
It’s something Adam takes great pride in—especially as it provided him the opportunity to remind Ryan that for all his ability on the ice, the elder Nugent-Hopkins brother will always have his own superior skills.
“I can get him at other things,” said Adam with a smile. “I can definitely bench press more than him. It’s a start.”