Pernell-Karl Subban, known to most as P.K., is one of the most dynamic defensemen in recent memory. His electrifying play on the ice combines with his equally-charismatic personality off-ice into a person who is both beloved and criticized, often at the same time. But regardless of how you view him, he is one of the game’s most interesting players. Here are seven elements of Subban’s life, both on and off the ice, that make him unique and interesting.
1. From Caribbean to Canada
As a black athlete in the NHL, Subban is already a non-traditional player, but it’s his background that makes him more interesting. Both of his parents immigrated to Canada from Caribbean islands before he was born. His father, Karl, was born in Jamaica while his mother, Maria, is from Montserrat in the Leeward Islands. Both moved to Canada in 1970.
Karl’s family lived in Sudbury and grew up in the French-speaking neighborhood of Flour Mill. Maria’s family moved to Toronto where the two met each other and married. Afterward, they bought a home in Toronto’s Rexdale district where Karl became a teacher and principal in some of the city’s lower-income school districts while Maria worked as a quality control analyst. It was in that neighborhood that they raised five children.
2. Born into a Sports Family
You could say that the Subban children were born to be athletes and that would be an accurate statement. Growing up in Jamaica, Karl played cricket and soccer. However, when his family moved to Canada, he quickly fell in love with hockey. His parents bought him a pair of used skates from the local Salvation Army so that he could fit in with kids his age. Although he never played hockey at a high level, he became a lifelong fan of the sport and instilled that love in his children.
Maria was also athletic and took her abilities to a higher level. In high school, she won a provincial gold medal as part of a 4 x 100 meter relay team. That athleticism was passed onto she and Karl’s children, including the eldest, Natassia, a basketball player. By the time Natassia graduated from Lakehead University, she was the all-time leading scorer in Ontario university history.
3. A Trio of NHL Brothers
Yet despite the Subbans’ overall athleticism, hockey remained the dominant sport in the family and all three of their youngest children, P.K., Malcolm, and Jordan, were drafted by NHL clubs. Pretty much every hockey fan knows of P.K., the oldest brother and a member of the New Jersey Devils. In 2017-18, middle brother Malcolm, a goaltender, was pivotal for the Vegas Golden Knights as he stepped in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. At the 2020 Trade Deadline, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Youngest brother Jordan, also a defenseman, currently plays in Austria’s EBEL.
Growing up, Karl and Maria did everything possible to provide opportunities for their sons. They created a backyard rink and even let the boys practice inside, using piano legs for a net. When P.K. was young, Karl, who worked two jobs and didn’t get home until after 10 p.m., would take his son skating late at night in order to spend time with him. As the oldest brother, P.K. may have been the only one to receive new equipment as Malcolm and Jordan received his hand-me-downs, but all three had parental support.
P.K. also set the tone for the brothers’ junior hockey careers as all three played for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls, a franchise that has since moved to Hamilton and became the Bulldogs. In the 2007 Draft, the Montreal Canadiens took him in the second round despite not being expected to go that early. Malcolm was originally a skater before switching to goalie while playing AAA hockey and struggled to get drafted into the OHL.
He found success with the Bulls and was the highest draft pick of the trio as the Boston Bruins used a 2012 first-round pick on him. He has since been claimed off waivers by the Golden Knights. Jordan is an undersized 5-foot-9 blueliner who plays a style similar to P.K. He was ranked as the 55th-best North American skater in 2013, his draft year, but fell to the Vancouver Canucks in the fourth round. He has since been dealt to the Los Angeles Kings and signed with the Maple Leafs in 2018-19.
4. Brother Versus Brother
Since Malcolm joined the Golden Knights, Vegas and Nashville played each other four times with Malcolm starting two of them. The first time they faced each other was on Dec. 8, 2017, a game the Golden Knights won 4-3 in a shootout. It was the 10th time in league history that brothers played each other with one a skater and the other a netminder.
Malcolm was stellar as he saved 41 of 44 shots, including one from P.K., and also stopped every shootout attempt. It was the perfect moment as the game was part of Vegas’ dad’s trip, so Karl was able to watch his sons face each other. But there was no question which team he was rooting for as he was adorned in a Golden Knights sweater, even when the trio took a selfie together.
5. From Montreal to New Jersey
When the Canadiens drafted P.K., his dreams became reality. That’s because he grew up a fan of the franchise, following in his dad’s footsteps. Karl, having grown up in a Francophile neighborhood, has adored the Canadiens since arriving in Canada and dreamed of being Ken Dryden when he was playing pickup hockey as a kid. So even though the Subban children were raised in Toronto, they were always fans of the Habs.
Subban thrived in Montreal as fans embraced him and he immersed himself in the culture. These feelings were strengthened as he excelled on the ice with a sixth-place finish in Calder Trophy voting his rookie year and a Norris Trophy win in 2013. He had one more top-three finish in Norris voting, two first-team all-star appearances, and finished in the top-10 in points among defensemen four times with Montreal.
However, disputes with management, especially surrounding his contract, led to bitter feelings. It started with a disagreement regarding his second contract that led to him sitting out the first four games of the 2012-13 season before agreeing to a bridge deal rather than the long-term contract Subban sought. However, when he won a Norris Trophy on the bridge deal, the Canadiens’ front office had no choice but sign him long-term in the next round of negotiations. Those contract disputes are ultimately what led to his departure from Montreal.
So when the Canadiens approached the Predators about a one-for-one trade involving Subban and Shea Weber, Predators general manager David Poile was more than happy to make that deal. In Nashville, Subban continued his stellar play with one top-three Norris Trophy finish, one second-team all-star appearance, and once finished in the top-10 in scoring for blueliners. He was also key in the Predators reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. In June 2019, the Predators dealt him to the New Jersey Devils, a move that Subban clearly embraced.
6. Charitable Efforts
Throughout his professional career, Subban has been passionate about helping communities near and far. It started in July 2011 when he joined Georges Laraque on a trip to Haiti to support the charity Hockey for Haiti. It was during that trip that he made a decision to be a difference-maker. As a result, he started P.K.’s Helping Hand, a foundation established to provide financial support to families with children suffering from illnesses.
In Sep. 2015, through the foundation, he made a financial commitment of $10 million over seven years to Montreal Children’s Hospital, which in response, named the atrium after him. The hospital called the donation “the biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history.” (from ‘The Making of P.K. Subban’s Big-League Heart,’ The Star – 10/12/15) Less than a year later he was traded to the Predators. But despite being nearly 1,000 miles from Montreal, he continues to give back to the city.
In Feb. 2018, when the Predators were in Montreal for a game against the Canadiens, Subban and six of his Predators teammates went back to the hospital to spend time with some of the children and their families. He followed that up in August by hosting a hockey camp in Montreal for children with the proceeds going to the hospital.
Yet just because he continued his charitable efforts in Montreal doesn’t mean he neglected to give back in Tennessee. Quite the opposite actually as he established his charity Blueline Buddies, which provided a premium ticket for a member of the Metro Nashville Police Department and one of the city’s underprivileged youth and their guests for every Predators home game. He also bought them dinner at one of the arena’s premium restaurants and met them before and after the game.
He established the program to create unity between law enforcement and citizens in response to the recent distrust between the two groups. In March 2018, the program had connected 66 police officers and children. He continued that organization in New Jersey following his trade to the Devils.
I’m making an effort to build a bridge. Trying to create positive energy between police officers that leave their houses every day, leave their families every day and don’t know if they’re going to come back, and our underprivileged youth. – P.K. Subban (from ‘P.K. Subban’s Latest Target,’ Tennessean – 12/18/17)
Subban’s desire to give back comes as no surprise and was ingrained in him from an early age. Maria instilled in her children the need to look out for each and take care of the less well off, lessons she learned in Montserrat. Karl willingly took jobs in less-privileged school districts so he could make a difference in children’s lives.
7. Breaking Barriers
If you follow hockey or are familiar with Subban, you know that he is constantly tearing down walls that stand in his way. At the base level, there’s the fact that he’s a black athlete playing in one of the most white-dominated sports. Black players are a significant minority in the NHL and always have been. Willie O’Ree, the first black player in league history, made his debut in 1958, 11 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. It didn’t get better either as it took 13 years after O’Ree’s last game in 1961 for there to be another black player in the NHL.
But Subban breaks down more than just the racial barrier. Hockey is a conservative sport, not in a political manner, but in how players are expected to act. This means they don’t stand out or draw attention to themselves and always put the team first. Therefore, anytime a player speaks out, plays a charismatic brand of hockey, or has a distinct personality, he risks being ostracized. And that’s where Subban often finds himself.
Watch any of his games, and this reveals itself. As an offensive defenseman, he is comfortable with the puck on his stick and can lead a rush as well as many forwards. His slap shot from the point is electrifying and leads to goal celebrations that stand out from the pack. He hits hard, often toes the line between aggressive and illegal, and can be found trash-talking opponents on a regular basis – see the mouthwash incident between he and Sidney Crosby for reference.
But off the ice, he exhibits the same personality. He is open with his charity efforts and desire to make a difference in people’s lives. He owns a marketing company, P.K.S.S., which has allowed him to partner with Bridgestone, Gatorade, and Air Canada. He has also worked with RW&CO, a Canadian clothing company, to create the P.K. Subban Suiting Collection, a line he helped design with the goal of allowing young men to dress similar to Subban, considered one of the game’s more fashion-conscious athletes.
Unapologetically P.K. Subban
While Subban loves hockey and his love for the sport is what drove him to his current success, he also believes there is a time and place for it in his life, and when he has time off, he is free to do what he wants. For him, it means doing charity work, fulfilling endorsement deals, or being in high-profile relationships, including his recent engagement to former professional skier Lindsey Vonn. He is open about his feelings on the sport in a way that few other players are.
But that makes him P.K. Subban, both the person and the brand. He’s an elite hockey player, but he’s also a generous person with personality and through it all, he is as genuine as they come. These were just seven interesting things about Subban and only provide a brief glimpse into his life, but they are part of the reason he is one of the game’s most unique players and one of my favorite athletes.