By Lori Bennett
Special to Wreckhouse Press
Hockey families are all over the NHL history books. My memories feature the Howes in the 70s, the Stastny brothers in Quebec in the 80s, and no less than nine Sutters over the years. We all
remember the Sedin twins being drafted together by the Vancouver Canucks. This season Ottawa Senators Brady Tkachuk made waves for cheering for his brother, Matthew, during the Calgary Flames playoff run. Hockey has always been a family game.
This past season in Montreal, following a series of coincidental moves, the Pitlicks became a Habs hockey family. The dynamic began at the 2019 Amateur Draft when Rhett Pitlick was drafted in the fifth round, 131st overall, by the Canadiens. Rhett has been developing at the University of Minnesota, but his rights belong to Montreal as soon as his college career is done. In Jan. 2022, the Canadiens claimed Rhett’s brother, Rem Pitlick, off waivers from the Minnesota Wild. But Montreal wasn’t done picking Pitlicks yet. On Feb. 14, the Habs acquired their cousin, Tyler Pitlick, in the trade that sent Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames.
Rem and Rhett grew up around professional hockey. Their father, Lance Pitlick, had an NHL career with the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers, playing eight years at the highest level of hockey in North America.
Rhett was born during the 2000-01 hockey season, later in his father’s hockey career, so he doesn’t remember Lance’s playing days. But hockey was a big part of family life.
His memories about growing up in a hockey family send Rhett’s mind back to the pond, or to how his dad would “kind of Zamboni our rink in the backyard and make it all perfect for me.”
The brothers spent hours together developing their skills, and then saw their cousin, Tyler, when they visited their grandma at Christmas.
“We would play boot hockey at Grandma’s, so we’ve always been interconnected. Sometimes we’d play on skates, but sometimes just do boot hockey, and sometimes a mix of everything, you know?”
Of course, when you’re playing boot hockey with your family, or skating on your backyard rink in Minnesota, you might not imagine two brothers and a cousin all becoming members of the same team.
“I don’t think that ever crossed our mind, but it’s our unique situation and I’m super thankful for it. I think it’s amazing,” said Rhett.
That has led to some increased attention in the hockey world, but it’s been especially impactful for the Pitlick clan.
“Within our family, it sparks in everyone’s eyes. For me, it’s almost like a more motivating factor to accomplish that dream of all three of us playing together.”
The Canadiens are not the first team the brothers have had in common. Rhett is currently part of the University of Minnesota program, and Rem also played there, but their time did not overlap.
“I think it definitely started with my parents. Both my mother and my father went to the University of Minnesota as well. So my brother was there and then, for me, it was just a no-brainer to go on that path. It’s pretty close to home. So you become a homebody. Being close to home was nice, but it’s also a great way to develop hockey skills. I know there’s been a lot of people who played college hockey that are now in the NHL, so to me it was just the perfect path for sure.”
There are some differences with college hockey. Players are not able to sign professional contracts until their college careers are done, which means some options that are available if the prospect takes the junior hockey route are not on the table for college kids. For example, the option to play a few games with the NHL team to “get a look” before returning for junior seasoning is not possible for college players.
“Obviously, with the Canadiens we have development camp. So we go there once a year. But it’s nothing too crazy. We just do a lot of training with our own team here. I wouldn’t say there is a ton of communication with the Canadiens, but there’s check-ups all the time. But right now the focus is on the University of Minnesota and all the things that will lead to down the road.”
Rhett and Rem were also influenced by their mother, Lisa Wittwer Pitlick, who is an accomplished athlete. She was to compete at the Olympics but suffered a broken ankle.
“She is one of the most athletic people I know. She’s a very high level elite gymnast,” said Rhett.
He remembers being on the go with his mom to various gyms and credits her for being their biggest supporter.
“From my childhood I was always on a trampoline, and I was a bit of a gymnast growing up myself, but obviously hockey was the main priority.”
With the NHL draft quickly approaching, Rhett shared how he may have been prepared for his own draft year, having had family members go through the process.
Watching his family members go through the process helped Rhett understand the work habits and preparation necessary to be ready.
“For the kids being drafted it’s a dream come true,” said Rhett. “In terms of draft day, I’m just super thankful the Canadiens picked me up and think it’s an amazing organization. So I couldn’t be more happy. But yeah, it definitely causes some anxiety. Like you definitely hope to see your name on the screen, and when I did I was super thankful.”
Rhett has learned from Rem and Tyler how to separate the athletics and the business side of hockey. He says there is a difference between what you do when you’re “on the outside” and what you do when you’re alone, and the things you can and can’t control. Rem has taught him the importance of work habits, good nutrition and diet.
“There’s lots of ups and downs and weird things going on. But as long as you keep to yourself and be the best you can be and always keep going on, keep working hard.”
The Pitlicks are all on their summer break from the hockey season, and for Rhett it’s a break from studying also. He will be in development camp in Montreal in two weeks and has been to Montreal for camp previously. He and Rem trained in Montreal a couple of summers ago before Rem became a Hab.
“We just kind of toured the city. So it’s pretty amazing to think that now he’s in Montreal, right?”
During this summer break, the Pitlicks intend to spend some time on the lake to wind down. Rhett said they will also visit Florida.
“We usually take a couple of weeks to go train with Adam Oates. We train during the day and hit the beach at night. Sometimes we make a family trip of it.”
But it won’t be long before the Pitlicks are back on the ice. Rhett will be at the University of Minnesota with the Golden Gophers, but he is looking forward to fulfilling his dream of playing in the NHL with the Canadiens. If the stars continue to align, perhaps he will have the opportunity to play with his brother, Rem, and his cousin, Tyler, and be able to continue the family hockey tradition together in Montreal.
Rem Pitlick is a restricted free agent looking for his next contract. Tyler Pitlick is an unrestricted free agent who will be looking for a new contract, either with the Canadiens or another NHL team.