Maple Leafs Fathers and Sons: The Nylanders & Kapanens

Today is Father’s Day, and it’s great to remember the relationship between dads and sons. Happy Father’s Day to all those dads who read this post. For fathers and sons, it’s always great to have things to share. I know my son and I (and now with my grandson as well) have always enjoyed cracking packs of hockey cards together and sorting them in all manner of ways.

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On the current Toronto Maple Leafs roster, two sons have shared a “rich” (and I mean that in more than one way) experience. These two father-and-son pairs have both played in the NHL. In this post, I want to share a bit of their stories.

William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen Are Ice Chips Off the Old Block

How interesting it must have been for William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen to grow up hanging out with the guys that hockey fans usually only see from afar.

Kasperi Kapanen Toronto Maple Leafs
Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I want to thank Maple Leafs commentator Stephen, whose post yesterday in Editor in Leaf put me onto two older hockey articles that were fascinating to read about these families.

The Nylanders: William and Michael

In a 2016 New York Times article by Dhiren Mahiban, written about William and his brother Alexander Nylander’s youth, shows how interesting it is to be the sons of a hockey player. Father Michael played for seven different NHL clubs (the Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers) and scored 209 goals and 470 assists in 920 games. (from “A Hockey Bond for Father, Sons and Honorary Cousin, Dhiren Mahiban, New York Times, 09/04/16)

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Michael also had six blond-haired kids (four girls and two boys) who would often hang out in locker rooms – the Times article called them bobble-heads. Both boys have gone on to play NHL hockey – William in Toronto and Alexander now with the Chicago Blackhawks.

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William interviewing brother Alexander Nylander

In that four-year-old article, William talked about being the child of a player: “We’d be all over the place; we’d come down there and do whatever. We liked going down there. We were just kids. We didn’t really know how big it was. That’s the way we grew up, in locker rooms.”

That article also quoted then-Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock about why children of NHL players have some advantages if they chose to play the game their fathers played.

He noted, “I think you at least have the hockey sense because you just understand the game. It sets you up on the fast track. Now, you’ve still got to do something with it. Talent is great if you do something with it.”

Babcock added, “The other thing I guess you develop is probably a passion and a love for the game. It’s a pretty good way to make a living, if you can do it.”

The Kapanens: Kasperi and Sami

Kapanen’s father Sami also had a successful NHL career. He played 831 NHL games with three NHL teams – the old Hartford Whalers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Philadelphia Flyers – and scored 458 career points (189 goals and 269 assists). Obviously, as a father, watching his son get drafted by the Maple Leafs was exciting.

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However, a 2014 Yahoo Sports article by Sunaya Sapurji talked about father Sami coming out of retirement to play with son Kasperi on the same line during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons with KalPa Kuopio of the SM-liiga.

In that post, now six years old, father Sami shared that his desire to continue in hockey could not even be quantified in either English or his native Finnish. Citing the post, “More than his love of the game, it was the love of his son, Kasperi, that brought his aging body out of retirement for another year(s) of the grind.”

Related: Top 5 Father-Son Duos in NHL History

Then 41-year-old father Sami noted, “It was the reason I kept pushing myself to give it one more year to have a chance to play with him. It’s special and it’s hard to put into exact words. You feel so proud that your son is on the ice at the age of 16, 17 and that he’s capable of playing with men on a professional level of hockey.”

He added, “It probably means more to a dad than to a son.”

By the way, during the 2013-14 season, then teenager Kasperi scored 14 points playing on the same line as his dad. Sami scored 13 points on the season. As the article pointed out, the two “had a blast playing together” for those two seasons.

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares Kasperi Kapanen
Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares celebrates a goal with right wing Kasperi Kapanen (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Kasperi noted that, “At first it was a little bit weird having your dad on the same line. It’s the same guy you just had breakfast with in the morning – so it’s weird. But you get used to it and I really enjoyed it. It’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

What’s Next for William and Kasperi?

Right now, as it stands, it’s tough to know the next time any NHL dads will be able to watch their sons play. With the increased number of COVID-19 positive results, no one really knows when the Maple Leafs might take the ice in competition again this season.

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But, like hockey dads everywhere, I’m sure both Michael and Sami will enjoy watching their sons live out their shared dreams of playing in the NHL.