Don Oster isn't naive enough to think Matthew and Brady Tkachuk are saints on skates who can do no wrong. But it's safe to say the Winnipegger has a much kinder, gentler view of them than the typical hockey fan around these parts.
Where some see a pair of super-pests with smug, punchable faces only a mother could love, Oster believes his two grandsons are just doing what it takes to have success in the best hockey league in the world. And they're damn good at it, too — even if their antics frequently tow the line and draw the ire of opponents.
"To me, if you want to get ahead, you have to play hard. Or why play at all?" Oster, 75, told me Monday.
Expect this love-hate relationship to really heat up in the next two weeks. The Winnipeg Jets play the first of four straight games against Matthew's Calgary Flames on Monday night, and will follow that up with two consecutive contests against Brady's Ottawa Senators next week. All told, the Jets will face one of the Tkachuk's in 10 of their first 14 games this year, and 19 times in this 56-game NHL regular season.
That ought to get everyone in a lather. Except, of course, for the person who might just be their one and only fan in Winnipeg, whose only complaint is that he won't get to witness all the action in person.
"Not being able to be in the stands to watch them is the tough part," said Oster. "With all the protocols right now it’s impossible to see them. In the past when they'd play in Winnipeg I'd always have them over for dinner. But that’s not the case this year. It is what it is."
Oster's daughter, Chantal, met Keith Tkachuk when he was playing for Jets 1.0 in the early 1990s. They married in 1997, after the team relocated to Arizona, and started their family. The couple now reside in St. Louis, where Tkachuk finished up his NHL career in 2010 and still works as a scout for the Blues.
Oster's son Craig is an NHL player agent with a long list of high-profile clients including Erik Karlsson, Evander Kane and Mark Stone, along with Jets forwards Adam Lowry, Jansen Harkins and David Gustafsson. And Oster has been deeply engrained in the local hockey community for decades, despite never playing the game while growing up in rural Manitoba. He was one of several investors who helped save the MJHL's Winnipeg South Blues in the 1980s.
"When you think about the small percentage that make it, you get drafted but there’s still no guarantee. But when you have two that make it, it is a very meaningful and proud moment." – Don Oster
"I was always a Jets fan, back when Keith played here and in the John Ferguson days. We go back in history with the Jets a long way. But when it comes to the boys, blood is thicker. Not that I’m not faithful to the Jets, but I’ve got to cheer my boys on," said Oster, whose wife Patricia died in 2013 at the age of 65.
Heading into action Monday, Matthew, 23, had two goals, three assists and seven penalty minutes through Calgary's first seven games. He was drafted sixth overall in 2016. Brady, 21, leads Ottawa with three goals, four assists and 18 penalty minutes through nine games. He was taken fourth overall in 2018.
"When you think about the small percentage that make it, you get drafted but there’s still no guarantee. But when you have two that make it, it is a very meaningful and proud moment," said Oster.
He has been a major part of their upbringing, which includes living with Matthew and Brady in their new NHL homes when they were breaking into the league. He also accompanied Matthew on his team's Father's/Mentor's trip last season to Minnesota and Chicago.
"Oh, that was an experience. I’ll tear up just talking about it. For a grandpa to experience that. I’m a local boy, never played hockey, to see how they live on the road, it was an experience for me," he said.
Matthew became Public Enemy No. 1 last summer when he took out Jets centre Mark Scheifele with a questionable hit in the opening minutes of their best-of-five playoff series. Jets head coach Paul Maurice called the unpenalized play an "absolutely filthy, disgusting hit."
Oster heard about it in spades.
"Naturally I was getting a hard time. At the same time, I would never believe he would go out there to do something intentionally. Yes, play right to the wire, but he wouldn’t go out there to hurt intentionally like that. The game is the game, you do get hurt. It was unfortunate for Scheifele," he said.
"The way we see Matthew, he is a totally different individual than he is on the ice. He’s a young man, very sensitive. But on the ice he’s determined, plays hard, is effective to his team."
Matthew apologized for what he called an unfortunate result, and Scheifele later said he didn't think it was intentional. But it's clear some bad blood exists between the teams, which was on display during their season-opening game on Jan. 14 that included a second-period skirmish involving Matthew and several Winnipeg players.
Things may reach a boiling point by the end of this four-game series, which is part of the unique Canadian Division and schedule this season.
"It’s amazing hockey. It feels like playoff hockey all the time because you can’t afford to leave a point on the table. At the end of the day I wouldn’t mind seeing this continue. It probably helps for travel and expenses. I guess owners will have to make decisions for themselves, but I’d love to see it stick," said Oster.
What about when Matthew and Brady clash, as they will nine times this year? Some have suggested the brothers may ultimately get sick of each other — a sight that would no doubt bring a smile to many hockey fans, especially ones in this neck of the woods.
Well, except for one, of course.
"They’ll give each other a shove, they’ll play hard against each other. But to drop the gloves, I’m not sure. I don’t think it will happen. It could, but not likely," said Oster. "But it is hard to watch when they play against each other. I’m cheering for both teams. The Jets were No. 1 in my heart, but once the grandsons started playing, to me it’s boys first, Jets second."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.