No Harm In Change

A Look Into Traveling Hockey Families

Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams & Brandon Johnston

The life of a professional hockey player may seem glamorous, but it does take a toll on their family. Families often have to endure changes in places, schools and workplaces—all part of the hockey player’s lifestyle. Sylvain Lefebvre, head coach of the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs, and his family are no exception.

Between 1989 and 2003, Lefebvre was playing in the National Hockey League with five teams: the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Quebec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche, and the New York Rangers. Lefebvre won a Stanley Cup as a member of the Avalanche in 1996.

The defenceman even played a season in Switzerland before announcing his retirement from playing in 2004. In 2012, Lefebvre took on the head-coaching job of the Hamilton Bulldogs, the minor league affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.

In between his 945 career games, Lefebvre and his wife Marie-Claire have raised four children: Jade, Djan, Jordan, and Alexanne.

“There’s definitely a lot of instability with all the moving,” said Djan. “We try to remain tight and close, but we probably changed schools four times while in New York.”

This past weekend the Bulldogs played a game against the Toronto Marlies at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The game gave Sylvain the opportunity to visit with Djan, a former hockey player with the Concordia Stingers men’s team, and Alexanne, a John Molson School of
Business student.

“Family is everything,” said Lefebvre. “We all have our stuff to do whether it be work, school or anything, and usually have summer family time, but when we can still manage during my hockey season the quality time is most important.”

The Lefebvre children are now grown and some have moved around the country. Djan and Alexanne remain in Montreal, while Jade is in Sherbrooke and Jordan is in Kingston.

“It’s a lot of fun, we don’t get to see each other very often,” said Djan. “Our family life has definitely been very volatile, so it’s really nice to get some nice quality time all together.”

“You really learn to cherish every moment with your family,” said Alexanne. “We try to fight less and enjoy the moments.”

The Lefebvre family has had many memorable moments throughout Sylvain’s playing career, including Alexanne’s baptism in the bowl of the Stanley Cup in 1996.

“Well, we really wanted to do something special, since [Alexanne] was born in November 1995 and always loved big family gatherings in the summer time,” said Sylvain. “This time, with our deep playoff run and success, we were able to do both at the same time. It was unique
and different, but Alex is special.”

“It’s not something I always like to share, but it always gets found out,” said Alexanne. “I can’t say it was super awesome cause I don’t remember, but the one thing I do like is that my butt was sitting in the Stanley Cup.”

In an earlier version of this article, The Link listed Jade Lefebvre as the eldest brother of the Lefebvre family. She is in fact the eldest sister. The Link regrets the error.

“Our family life has definitely been very volatile.” -Djan Lefebvre

Djan retold another anecdote when he tried to convince his father to not sign with the Rangers in 1999.

“I remember when he told us New York was interested, and I looked at him and said, ‘Dad, didn’t you ever see the movie Home Alone? New York is a big dangerous place,’” Djan said.

“It was really the hardest later on in his career because I was in middle school, right at the peak of my social times,” said Alexanne. “And right when you start to discover who you are, you have to leave right away.”

When Sylvain isn’t tending to his kids, he’s looking out for the youngsters on the Hamilton Bulldogs, to whom he acts like a surrogate father.

“Being a head coach I like to act like their dad, and my assistants are like my brothers,” he said. “Sometimes with the kids, you need to pat them on the back. Other times, you need to give them a kick in the butt. They’re my extended family.”

For some members of the Bulldogs the transitions that come with being in the family of a professional hockey player, much like what the Lefebvre children endured, are nothing new.

Canadiens prospect and Bulldogs forward Christian Thomas is the son of former NHLer Steve Thomas, who played for six clubs over a 20-year career.

“He’s done so much. [He] coached me when I was younger, he’s seen so much and gotten so much experience, so now whenever I need advice or someone to go to, he’s the best source for me,” said Christian. “Moving around was definitely an awesome experience, and I got to travel with him to four teams. I was just happy to be around for it all.”

Defenceman Jarred Tinordi, also a Bulldog and Habs prospect, is another example. His father Mark played in New York, Minnesota, Dallas, and Washington over a 12-year career.

“You know, it’s funny—when I was up here [in Montreal] last week I was talking to [Habs defenceman Sergei] Gonchar, and he played with my dad in Washington,” said Jarred. “And Gonchar told me of how he remembered playing tape hockey in the dressing room with my brother and I.

“I was born in Minnesota, but didn’t remember much there or Dallas. I do remember Washington and how great our mom was with myself and my three other siblings,” he continued. “It’s a lot of moving and traveling, but credit to them.”

Jarred’s father played 663 career games, an accomplishment that Jarred hopes to emulate in his career.

“He’s always been super helpful earlier in my career and now,” he said. “We talk every day or every other day and he’s always a great source of guidance.”

Fortunately for Jarred and Christian, they’ll always have their surrogate father to continue their development while their hockey dads are away.

“I tell my kids [and the Bulldogs] to be okay to adjust, and to take everything as a positive,” said Sylvain. “I don’t know if you ever get fully accustomed to the moving and changes, but it’s all about the way in which you take it.”