When your last name is Messier, hockey is part of your DNA, and your first shoes are a pair of skates.
Brothers Jordan and Marcus Messier, cousins to Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier, fit that profile down to the last drop of sweat.
Donning skates at an early age, the Messier brothers were quick studies of the game, often playing up a level and filling the net with plenty of goals.
After years of playing on different teams, the Messiers finally are on the same team -- with the Tri-City Americans. General manager Bob Tory thought if one Messier was good, two could be better.
Now, wearing the same jersey, the brothers are waiting for the day they hear the arena announcer call their names together for contributing on a goal. It could be a goal and an assist, or two assists. Anything would do.
"We've had a lot of chances, but we haven't connected yet," said Marcus, the younger of the two by two years. "When we were younger, Jordan was always better than me, and he was always playing up and scoring lots of goals."
The brothers have heard their names called back-to-back plenty of times by their mom, Lisa, but it was never for scoring -- more along the lines of scolding.
"They are brothers. They can have their moments fighting and teasing each other," Lisa Messier said. "We had some serious stick hockey games in the house, and there are holes in the wall. They are competitive, but they are always there for each other."
From Canmore, Alberta, the Messiers will play near their hometown today when the Americans take on the Calgary Hitmen. Canmore is 65 miles west of Calgary.
The Messiers are the first brothers to be on the Americans' roster at the same time. Tory has drafted, or invited to camp, the younger brothers of other Tri-City players, but none have impressed enough to earn a jersey at the same time as their brothers.
"It's not a case of brothers, but are they good enough to play in the league?" Tory said. "Marcus is here because he is good enough to play at this level. You have to be good enough to get the job done."
Jordan, who turns 20 on Saturday, was the first to arrive at Toyota Center, coming in as a lanky 16-year-old after playing for the highly touted Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan.
Tory used his first pick (2nd round, 40th overall) of the 2007 Western Hockey League bantam draft to take Jordan, coming off a season during which he scored 42 goals and 48 assists for the Hounds in 23 games.
Two years later, Tory took Marcus, who also played at Notre Dame, in the second round, 41st overall. Marcus, who missed five weeks of action that season because of a broken hand, still finished with 21 goals and 31 assists in 17 games. He also helped the Hounds win a AAA midget title, just like his dad, Mitch, did in 1981.
"Marcus was highly skilled and a good skater," Tory recalled. "I think he will develop into an offensive player in this league, but as our team developed the last couple of years, those opportunities haven't been there for him. He has found his niche right now."
Their days at Notre Dame are where the similarities between the brothers end.
Jordan, at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, is a classic power forward with a natural scoring ability. Last year, he scored 26 goals. He has 74 goals and 78 assists in his three-plus seasons with the Americans.
"When I first got here, I was playing with (Kruise) Reddick and (Brooks) Macek," Jordan said. "I always looked up to Kruise. He showed me the ropes. I've played all kinds of roles. Being a versatile player has helped me."
But his size and versatility didn't help him much when it came to the 2010 NHL draft.
"That was disappointing, for sure," Jordan said of getting passed over. "I had some high hopes. It puts a little fire in your belly -- it pisses you off a little bit."
Marcus, who turned 18 on Jan. 17, is listed at a generous 5-8 and 150 pounds. He had limited ice time last season as a rookie, but this year he plays a key role on the energy line. He also has chipped in three goals and four assists, but he knows where his strengths lie.
"Last year was a learning year," Marcus said. "I needed to get bigger. It takes a bit to adjust to the (WHL) game. I worked pretty hard over the summer, and things are going pretty well this year. I like the energy line. We have guys to put the puck in the net. They do what they do. When we need that spark, I try to get under (the opponent's) skin. It's a fun role."
It's a family thing
The Messiers took the same path in hockey as their grandfather, Denny, their father, and uncles Joby and Murray -- to Notre Dame.
"At a young age, our dad had a plan for us," Jordan said. "It's a family tradition to go there. For us to go there and follow in family footsteps and be part of that tradition is special."
"I don't think anything else was an option," Marcus said.
Though sending her sons away at 14 years old wasn't easy, Lisa Messier said the experience has been good for her sons, including the youngest, Ryan, 15, who is in his first year at Notre Dame.
"I could see (sending the boys to Notre Dame) coming before I had kids," Lisa said. "It has worked out well. I'm proud of them for so many reasons. I want to take credit, but leaving home at 14 and being around so many different people has helped them be who they are today."
After his days at Notre Dame, Mitch Messier started at Michigan State (1983-87, 1986 NCAA title) and played a handful of NHL games for the Minnesota North Stars. He spent most of his career in the International Hockey League with the Kalamazoo Wings and the Fort Wayne Komets. His hockey career ended after a horrific car accident in August 1996.
"I wish I had as good of hands as him," Jordan said of his dad. "He had a good set of hands."
While Jordan and Marcus spent most of their lives in Canada, they have dual citizenship, having been born in the United States while their dad pursued his career.
Jordan was born in Kalamazoo, Mich., and Marcus in Fort Wayne, Ind.
"When they first started playing, I would put a Canadian flag sticker on their helmets to honor their dad's heritage," Lisa said. "When we moved back to Canada, I put a United States flag on their helmet. They have been here so long, they are more Canadian, but I get a kick out of the boys with their Detroit Tigers hats and stickers on their trucks. It's my home state. It makes me feel good."
Lisa and Mitch Messier don't get to see their sons play as much as they would like, but no matter where their sons are playing, family is watching.
"Denny is a big part of their lives," Lisa said. "He goes to Tri-City a couple of times a year and watches them when they come near home. My parents (Pat and Diane Alexander) live in (White Lake) Michigan, and they watch every game on TV. There is a three-hour time difference, and sometimes they are up until 1 a.m. My parents get to Tri-City every year, and they come out and watch the boys during their Saskatchewan or Alberta trips. It's nice to have them on the same team."