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VHL Fathers & Sons - Part 1


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The VHL has seen its fair share of fathers and sons across the many generations of VHL hockey. This is part 1 of some of the more famous examples and how the pressure of being the son of an illustrious father paved the careers of some former players.

 

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The Father: Sterling Labatte

The Son: Alexander Labatte

@sterling

 

The Legacy: You don't really get much bigger names than Labatte in the VHL. Campbell, perhaps, or Slobodzian, but in terms of longevity, the impact of Sterling Labatte lasted for decades. Countless Hall of Famers brought into the league, roles as commissioner, simmer, among others, Sterling Labatte the executive was a big name to live up to. That's not to mention Sterling Labatte the player, who fittingly also played longer than anyone else (9 seasons) and when he was done had the top defenceman trophy renamed after him. To this day, the man who retired at the end of S9 is considered one of the greatest blue-liners the VHL has seen.

 

The Follow-up Act: No pressure then, Alexander. Born in Omsk, back when the VHL had a franchise based there, Labatte Jr had big shoes to fill and boy did he do just that. Alexander Labatte was a goaltender, therefore avoided the obvious and unhelpful comparisons to his famous dad, but still had a last name which brough expectation. This didn't phase him though – Continental Cup champion in his sophomore season, Labatte then took his game to greater heights after signing with Riga in free agency, peaking as a Brett Slobodzian Trophy winner in S32 with some astronomical numbers. The awards kept flowing up to retirement and Alexander hung up his skates with his place in the pantheon of VHL goaltending greats assured – and dad's approval was surely forthcoming too.

 

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The Father: Ryan Sullivan

The Son: Ryan Sullivan Jr.

@Advantage

 

The Legacy: Ryan Sullivan was a self-made hockey player and it probably motivated him even more to be competing in the same draft in S28 as someone with as famous a name as Labatte. While Labatte stopped the pucks, Sullivan picked up quite a few Labatte Trophies as the league's top defenceman, and they even spend some time together on New York, although never won a cup together. Nonetheless, Sullivan retired as one of the best defencemen in league history, a title he still challenges for even 35 seasons later.

 

The Follow-up Act: Spoiler alert – most of these stories go a bit differently to Alexander Labatte's. Sullivan Jr was a fine player, with his seasons as a defenceman very solid, including a Jake Wylde Trophy in S67. Although the bar set by Sullivan Sr was very high, it certainly felt like Sullivan Jr was about to break out as one of the league's best defencemen with potentially a Hall of Fame spot of his own. Instead, he chose a move to forward to accommodate his team in Malmo and despite an impressive and increasingly rare 100+ point season initially, Sullivan's career ground to a halt after that. The natural talent was there, but the consistency and application of his father was lacking.

 

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The Father: Thomas Landry

The Son: Thomas Landry II

@Doomsday

 

The Legacy: It's a bit more niche to be a Thomas Landry fan, unless of course you're from Davos. There, he's a living legend, captain of the last great Dynamo team of the mid-30s and a throwback to better times. A late round draft pick, Landry worked his way up to the VHL's elite and although he never quite hit the Hall of Fame pace, he was one of the more consistent forwards of his time and became renowned for his leadership, both in Davos and a swansong for an underdog Calgary team.

 

The Follow-up Act: It's only really just begun, Landry II being drafted to Prague in S71. There's a bit of historical significance there as Prague's GM is Jason Glasser, the same man who GMed Calgary when Landry I played out his career. It adds to an increased pressure on the younger Landry's shoulders but he is in a slightly more enviable position than some other VHL sons in that he can, statistically, have a better career than his father. 540 points is the target and some cups to go alongside it.

 

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The Father: Skylar Rift

The Son: JB Rift

@Devise

 

The Legacy: Another name from the same sort of era as Labatte Jr, Sullivan Sr, and Landry I, Skylar Rift was a goalie overshadowed by names like Tuomas Tukio and Remy LeBeau from the same generation, but he more than made a name for himself. In fact, in some ways Rift is more famous – the rookie cup champion turned two-faced mercenary who jumped ship after one season in Calgary to join up with a number of other sellswords in Quebec. Rift had the last laugh though, as top goalie and playoff MVP when Quebec won its first championship in S35, before abruptly retiring a season later. The short career put paid to his Hall of Fame chances but he remains one of the more gifted goalies we've seen.

 

The Follow-up Act: Personality-wise, there's not much in common between Skylar and JB. Rift Jr was more of a late-bloomer – even though he won a cup as a rookie too, it was as a backup – and only went to free agency out of necessity, generally avoiding the limelight. He'll have played more games than his father, but struggled to match him in wins, shutouts or any other statistic, a testament both to the VHL's increasing parity and the very strong career that Skylar had. JB had his moments though – top goalie in S67 and would-be playoff MVP in S70 if Calgary could take the last couple steps to get the Continental Cup. A fine career, but not quite as fine as his father's.

 

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The Father: Brady Stropko

The Son: Brady Stropko Jr.

@Bushito

 

The Legacy: Lots of controversy followed the early career of Brady Stropko, as his agent, Seattle GM Tyler Barabash, looked to banish the demons that came with his infamous disappearing act throughout his Davos reign 10 seasons earlier, including right before the S31 Continental Cup win. In a cruel twist of fate, Barabash would leave again on the verge of Seattle's more unexpected triumph in S43, in which Stropko played a key part as co-playoff MVP. His development stalled thereafter but he remained a useful forward for contending teams, playing for Quebec, Helsinki, Toronto, Calgary, Cologne, Stockholm, and Davos before retiring, missing out on just 2 VHL franchises of the time. With 550 career points and another cup with Helsinki, it was certainly a solid career considering the turbulent start.

 

The Follow-up Act: In his third GM stint, now with Calgary, Barabash has had his ups and downs but the redemption arc has more or less happened, with early 60s Calgary a particularly impressive team. Stropko's son came into the organisation through the draft in S65 to help with the rebuilding effort but has had a modest career compared to Stropko Sr. The highlight so far has been a 60-point season in S68 and a surprise run to the finals in S70. As a defenceman rather than a forward, Stropko Jr. has been less flashy in every sense, but for the Wranglers that's probably a relief.

 

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The Father: Matt Bailey

The Son: Who knows

The Grandson: Kronos Bailey

@Quik

 

The Legacy: Matt Bailey is a pretty big name in the VHL, the third in a line of early days Hall of Famers, and also two-time GM of Helsinki. As a player, he had a unique career, living up to his first overall billing by becoming one of the league's premier forwards and 3-time Scott Boulet Trophy winner, before switching to defence to benefit the team and developing so well into that position so well that he won a Labatte Trophy before retiring as well. Bailey won a cup in his last season as a forward, the playoff MVP of the Helsinki team he built in S15, and in his last season as defenceman, still going strong for the offensive powerhouse that was S19 Calgary.

 

The Follow-up Act: The Bailey name disappeared from the VHL for most of the next 40 seasons, but when he resurfaced, Matt became a league commissioner and took back his GM job from another Titans legend in Mitch Higgins. As part of the team he was building, he brought in his grandson, Kronos, who hasn't quite had as successful a career, but was also a key part of a Helsinki championship, with an 86-point season in S66. Kronos peaked two seasons later with a Beketov Trophy after a 71-assist performance in S68 and ended up staying with the Titans for life, as they put together a strong playoff streak including four straight finals.

 

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The Father: Conner Low

The Son (probably): Kevin Low

@Smarch

 

The Legacy: The Smarch agency had been around since S1 but generally produced only second-line players, although often crucial members of star-powered cup-winning teams. Then in S35, Conner Low came along. After an extra season in the VHLM, which suggested another depth player, Low exploded onto the scene and won five straight Sterling Labatte Trophies in his first five VHL seasons. On a New York team overflowing with superstars, Low was still the biggest name, and contributed to a record run of 4 straight Victory Cups, including 2 Continental Cups in S39 and S41. Even a late career stint as forward did not dent Low's reputation as the best defenceman of all time.

 

The Follow-up Act: Low remained in the public eye as commissioner and briefly Davos GM through the 40s and 50s, but it was only after stepping away from management roles that Low Jr came along in S67. Kevin was also a defenceman, who purposefully tanked his draft stock to fall to 31st overall but jump straight into the VHL anyway, with Seattle. Low's best season would be his second, as Seattle won the cup in no small part thanks to the sophomore defenceman's contribution (18 points in 14 playoff games), but he was swapped for Guy LeGrande prior to the Bears' repeat, and retired prematurely in S70. The talent was there but Conner's famous application seemed to be missing.

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