They say they hockey is a brotherhood. On and off the ice, the sport embodies the virtues of teamwork, loyalty, and altruism.
For Connor and Cody Donaghey, hockey is just another aspect of their brotherhood, one steeped in those values.
“I’d say we’re probably the closest brothers you’ll come across,” says Cody, 16. “We don’t fight, we’re always pretty easy-going and getting along.”
It’s not as if their friendship is borne from the onset of teenage maturity. They insist they’ve always been this way.
“We were always very close, even from a young age,” says Connor, 18.
The pair are quick to thank their mother Caroline Whelan, who raised the boys as a single mother.
“We lived with her full-time, so I think that and how she raised us brought us closer together,” says the older brother.
“Our mom played a big role (in our relationship) because she raised us so well,” adds the younger.
Both Donagheys were members of the St. John’s Maple Leafs major midget team this season, the first time the brothers had hit the ice together since novice hockey. Both also played high school hockey with the Bishops Barons.
“The instant chemistry we had was just like playing street hockey in front of the house,” says Cody, a defenseman.
“On the power play, I didn’t even have to look. I knew he’d be back door waiting for the pass.”
“I think we would be strong together wherever we played,” says Connor, who suited up with the Leafs despite being drafted 28th overall by the Maritime Junior A Hockey League’s Yarmouth Mariners last summer.
If the hockey gods are kind this weekend, the brothers Donaghey could end up playing together next season. Cody is ranked ninth overall heading into this weekend’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft, while Connor has signed a tryout offer with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
The Sea Dogs, the reigning league champions, have two picks in the first round of Saturday’s draft, No. 8 and No. 11. Moreover, Saint John could be in the market for a new defenceman with Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Nathan Beaulieu set to graduate to the pro ranks.
So if all the stars align — and if the brothers’ agent Norm Conway can make a convincing enough case — the possibility of a major junior career together exists.
The brothers, however, are realistic about the likelihood of that occurring.
“It would be ideal, but we know there’s a very slim chance of that happening,” says Connor.
Despite being contacted by several QMJHL teams prior to the last two entry drafts, Connor had no intention of taking the major junior route. At that time, he was only looking at playing collegiate hockey in the United States.
But when he began learning more about the QMJHL’s educational grant program, he was won over.
Cody says there’s probably more to it.
“I think (the fact) I’m going does play a bit of a role because we can both end up on the same team again, and it would be a lot easier on Mom as well.”
Darren Halloran, their coach with the Maple Leafs and now the head QMJHL scout for the Newfoundland and Labrador, says both are ready to play at the major junior level.
He says Connor, the Maple Leafs’ captain this past season, has “a natural ability to score goals”, evident in the 56-goals he collected over regular season and playoff games this season.
“His offensive game is the best part of his game. He’s a great skater, and he plays a very smart, heads up game,” says Halloran.
Cody, meanwhile, is coming off an impressive year in which he played for Team Atlantic at the World Under-17 Challenge in Windsor, Ont., even though he didn’t attend any of the team’s tryout camps and made the squad based on an impressive Program of Excellent tournament on the under-16 squad.
“He’s so smart,” says Halloran. “He sees seam passes that only the pros see. He has no problem carrying the puck, he’s a very offensive defenseman and he’s very physical when need be.
“Cody’s got the whole package. As long as he has a great summer of training and gets ready for camp and goes in prepared, I’m expecting to see him stick up there next year.”
And for his part, he’s ready to make that happen.
“I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life, so I think I’m ready to go,” says Cody.