Friday, October 12, 2018

Tkachuks open door to fourth young Blues player

Thomas latest to get living accommodations on idea of Matthew Tkachuk after 
Backes, Stempniak, McRae all thrived under roof of Keith, Chantal Tkachuk

ST. LOUIS -- As a 19-year-old in 1991, Keith Tkachuk remembered what it was like being a teenager trying to live as an adult in a foreign city, and in the Melrose, Massachussetts native Tkachuk's case, a foreign country.

You need help, you need some sort of lending hand, some guidance to help fit into a culture change.
(London Knights/St. Louis Blues photo)
Matthew Tkachuk (right) suggested his London Knights teammate in 2016,
Robert Thomas (left), live with Keith and Chantal Tkachuk.

Robert Thomas, the Blues' 2017 first round pick, was in the same predicament this past summer Tkachuk was in 27 years ago. Thomas is 19, he's from Aurora, Ontario, just north of Toronto, and now playing in the NHL ... and needing to live and adjust to life in St. Louis. 

Matthew Tkachuk, son of Keith and Chantal, was a teammate of Thomas' with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Together, they won a Memorial Cup in 2016. 

With Thomas playing for the Blues, Matthew had an idea to have Thomas live with his parents and continue to grow as an adult while learning the ropes of being in the NHL. And what better person to learn from that a U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer in Keith?

Matthew was no longer at home, being the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and chosen by the Calgary Flames, and younger brother Brady selected by the Ottawa Senators with the No. 4 pick this past June, only Keith, Chantal and their daughter Taryn, a sophomore playing field hockey at Villa Duchesne High School, occupied the house in suburban St. Louis.

So Matthew came up with the idea of Thomas moving in with the Tkachuks until he was ready to be on his own. It was the perfect fit.

"Over the summer, we started to think this could be a possibility staying up for the whole year," Thomas said. "Matthew was pretty adamant on staying at their house and he was pretty excited when he got to telling me his parents were pretty open to it. I think he was the one that kind of made it all happen. When you get an opportunity like that, you can't say no to it."

So Thomas became the fourth Blue (joining David Backes, Lee Stempniak and Phil McRae) as rent-free tenants of the Tkachuks.

Thomas was gaining a surrogate family. 

"We've known Robby for a few years and his family dating back to when Matthew played for London, and I know what it's like being a kid, and it's tough just staring at a hotel room all day, so I think it's good for him," Keith said. "We love having him around, especially with Matthew and Brady being out of town.

"... I give him a car. He's a got a great deal. I let him use my car. As long as he doesn't mess it up, I'll be happy. He's good. He's just a good kid to be around. It's actually good for me, to watch hockey on off nights and try to help him ease his way into the NHL because it's difficult when you don't have family around."

Will there be a curfew, Keith?

"I had to yell at him the other night to make sure he doesn't play video games all night," Keith joked. "He's great. He's such a good kid. He's quiet, he's very respectful. It's awesome to have somebody around to watch hockey with. It's great for me."

Thomas and Matthew Tkachuk came in together and spent one season in London together and became good friends, and the relationship has grown since.

"I'd say we definitely got to know each other pretty well," Thomas said. "His billet house was a couple minutes away from mine so he always helped me with rides and lunch and dinner and stuff like that. I think I got to know him pretty well."

Matthew remembered when he was young and the impact his parents had on the others staying there. But the Tkachuks moved into a new house within the past two years, and Thomas is the first one to have dibs on the new basement. 

"That's Robby's house how. I'm just a guest," Matthew joked. "It was great getting to see him again. I played with him in London. For him to learn from somebody like my dad this year will be good for him.

"We played in London in 2015-16. We won the Memorial Cup that year. I feel like anytime you win, you're just kind of engraved for the rest of your life together. I work out up in the summers with Gary Roberts. A couple summers ago, I stayed at [Thomas'] house and this summer, rented a house in the same neighborhood as him, so I got to hang out with him pretty much every day. He's close with me, he's close with my brother. Our families have become close as well."

With the Flames in town to play the Blues on Thursday, it was first a family gathering at the Tkachuks on Wednesday. They took in Taryn's field hockey game with Villa Duchesne at Whitfield (Taryn scored twice in a 4-0 win) before gathering at the Tkachuk house to watch Brady's second NHL game with Ottawa at home against Philadelphia. 

Matthew invited Flames teammates and trainers over to watch Brady's game and for dinner prepared by mom.

Of course Brady scored twice, matching Taryn in the scoring department on the same day.

"It's pretty cool," Keith said. "We had a bunch of people over last night. Matthew had the whole staff over. It was pretty cool, I'm not going to lie to you. When you wake up this morning and realize it's only his second game and he's put a lot of work in, getting drafted high and being in a Canadian city is a lot of pressure. It's nice to get that off his back."

"It was awesome," Matthew said. "Everybody was over, we were all pretty rowdy. My mom couldn't wipe the smile off her face. My dad, he was pretty giddy as well. You don't see him like that very often. We're so happy for him. I just got to text him quick [Thursday] morning; hopefully, I'll call him later. I'm sure his phone is blowing up today He's the big man right now. I'm going to let him enjoy his time on top of the world right now.

"... We were all having dinner; there were like 20 of us over. My mom was really the only one watching the game when she was eating. The rest of us were at a couple tables and we heard this bog roar and we were like, 'Oh, what's going on? What just happened?' I was like, 'Mom, what are you doing?' She's like, 'I don't know, Brady might have touched it.' I was like, 'No way.' The First replay was like, 'Mom, he's in front. He's near it, but there's no chance.' They kept showing more angles and I was like, 'Maybe.' The last overhead one, you saw it hit his foot and we all went nuts. Real happy for him and just the cherry on top to have the snipe in the second period. Happy for him. Definitely a night to celebrate it with the family, which is awesome."

The celebration included Thomas, Matthew's opponent Thursday, and being with his surrogate family has helped Thomas get acclimated and fit into a new lifestyle.

"I think for me, just his hockey experience," Thomas said. "You get to watch other NHL games with [Keith], watch your own NHL games with him. Just the stuff he can point out and try to add to your game. I think all that little extra experience goes a long way.

"[Chantal's] the real backbone of the household. She keeps everything running smoothly. Happy to have her around. It makes it that much easier."

Thomas has only a few simple rules that he needs to abide by.

"Stay out of [Keith's] chair and stay away from the control," Matthew said. "My dad doesn't seem to care too much if he makes that mistake, but if it were me or my brother, he'd be all over us."

Thomas giggled when asked about it. He had a picture of him taken in Keith's chair as a joke.

"He got a good kick when he saw that photo," Thomas said. "He loved that one, but I think there will be a couple more coming forward. I think that's the main one right now."

The Tkachuk's basement should be simply known as "The Basement." It's been a safe haven for four NHL players that have moved on to have prosperous lives and careers. But given the opportunity to do it again, Keith and Chantal wouldn't hesitate to accommodate.

"Actually, our parents moved houses about a year and half, two years ago, so Robby's the first one in this place," Matthew said. "It's brand new for him. He's going to enjoy it. My parents are going to take good care of him. It's like having another kid in the house, right? Me and my brother are gone. Maybe they're just bored of my sister all the time, I don't know. But it's great for my sister as well. She loves watching the Blues, she loves having me and my brother around, so having him around, it'll be kind of a refresher for everybody."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Matthew Tkachuk had one piece of advice for Robert Thomas (pictured)
regarding living with his parents: don't sit in his dad's chair and don't touch
the remote. Thomas is in Keith's chair with the remote here.

"There's been some pretty good players that he's taken under his wing," Thomas said of Keith.

"Give him his own space. Nice and quiet," Keith said. "As long as he doesn't bug me, I won't have to kick his ass. It's good."

Matthew and Thomas each got an assist Thursday in the Blues' 5-3 win. It was Thomas' first NHL point.

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