Does hockey run in the blood? There are plenty of examples of family acts in NHL history: the Sutter brothers, Gordie Howe and his sons, Bobby and Brett Hull, and many others. The SHL doesn’t have any of those… yet. But there are three CHL players who are working hard and hoping to join their relatives in the big time.
Arguably, Virginia Rhinos C Tanner Brooks is the closest of the three to making the leap. The 22-year-old center has been in the CHL since 2017, and he has earned raves for his strong defensive plays. The Rhinos’ parent club, the Saskatchewan Shockers, seriously considered making Brooks their third-line center out of training camp this year. Instead, the Shockers kept him in the minors for another season to develop his offensive game further.
2019 has been a breakout year for Tanner; he’s among the CHL’s top scorers with 15 goals and 10 assists so far. He seems to be on the verge of making the big time, either with Saskatchewan or as an attractive deadline trade piece.
When Tanner does reach the majors, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Washington Galaxy LW Charlie Brooks. Charlie is seven years older than Tanner, and he serves as example and inspiration to his little brother. “I wouldn’t be a hockey player today if it wasn’t for Charlie,” Tanner Brooks said. “He taught me how to skate, and he let me tag along with him to the rink when I got older. And he was always teaching me what he knew about the game.”
Charlie has followed Tanner’s career with great interest, and he’s excited to someday take the ice against (or with) his brother. “I think Tanner will be a better player than me,” Charlie said. “He’s taller and stronger, and he’s always been driven to succeed. If he does, I’ll be proud as heck.”
Charlie and Tanner’s parents still live in their childhood home in the Toronto area, but they faithfully attend as many of both brothers’ games as possible each year. “They always come to the same number of games for both of us, so they aren’t playing favorites,” said Tanner. “When I’m playing in Oshawa or Charlie’s in Hamilton, they’re definitely there for those. But they travel to see us too. It’s really great.”
Hartford Harpoons RW Felix Delorme doesn’t have a brother in the SHL, but he has another family connection: his uncle is Quebec Tigres coach Martin Delorme. Felix is only 20, and he was drafted by the Boston Badgers in 2018. He’s off to a strong start this year (13 goals, 8 assists), but likely still a season or two away from his SHL debut. But when he does, he knows he’ll have at least one fan, albeit behind the opposing bench.
Felix grew up in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. His father worked the second shift in a paper mill; due to his late hours, he had few opportunities to teach his son about the game. Fortunately, Uncle Martin was able to step in and help.
Beginning at age 7, Felix began attending his uncle’s summer hockey camps in Montreal. These sessions didn’t always go smoothly. “Uncle Martin always talked about defense and fundamentals, and all I wanted to do was shoot,” Felix admitted. But he did absorb a lot of key lessons about the game, lessons he practiced in the winter playing shinny with his friends.
Martin Delorme believes that his nephew will make the SHL someday. “He was a strong-minded boy, and sometimes we clashed heads,” Martin said. “But he was very determined and confident in himself. Plus he has a great natural talent. I know he will be a good player.”
Martin and Felix text regularly, and they speak via video chat when their schedules allow. Felix fills his uncle in on his latest progress; Martin gives his nephew tips and suggests SHL players to watch. “I hope we can still do this even when we are on enemy teams,” Felix said.
Both Tanner Brooks and Felix Delorme are in different organizations then their SHL relatives. So far, there is only one SHL-CHL family pairing where both members are in the same system. RW Jefferson McNeely is a star for the Washington Galaxy. And his younger brother, D Davis McNeely, plays for the Galaxy’s CHL affiliate, the Baltimore Blue Crabs.
Unlike Brooks and Delorme, the 20-year-old McNeely is not considered a top prospect. Since signing with the Galaxy in 2017, he has generally been relegated to Baltimore’s bottom pairing, and this year he has only 1 assist in 21 games (albeit with a +4 rating).
For Davis, the family connection brings pain as well as pleasure. “Everyone seems to think I only got signed because of Jeff,” said Davis. “I get heckled about it in other cities. ‘Your brother’s better than you!’ and stuff like that. Even here, when I’m slumping, people say, ‘They can’t get rid of him because, well, you know.’ Sometimes I want to go to another team, just so I can prove I deserve to be here.”
Jefferson McNeely vigorously denies that he asked the Galaxy to sign his younger brother. “Davis is his own man, always has been,” said Jefferson. “The Galaxy scouted him and signed him all on their own. I’m glad they did, because he’s a good player. But this idea that I ‘made’ the team sign him is just silly. I don’t have that kind of pull, anyway.”
Davis’ case may be an extreme example, but all three can’t help but he overshadowed by their big-league relatives. For now, Tanner Brooks is still “Charlie’s brother,” and Felix Delorme is still “Martin’s nephew.” But all three of them eagerly await their shot at the SHL spotlight, and the chance to make a name for themselves.