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Sports >  NHL

‘He can fly around all night’: Brandon Tanev’s effort endears him to Kraken teammates

Feb. 6, 2023 Updated Mon., Feb. 6, 2023 at 6:04 p.m.

The Seattle Kraken’s Brandon Tanev, right, puts the Edmonton Oilers’ Markus Niemelainen into the boards in the second period at Climate Pledge Arena on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
The Seattle Kraken’s Brandon Tanev, right, puts the Edmonton Oilers’ Markus Niemelainen into the boards in the second period at Climate Pledge Arena on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Seattle. (Tribune News Service)
By Kate Shefte Seattle Times

His own dad, who still breaks down every Kraken game over the phone, can’t sum up his middle son in so many words.

“Brandon is who he is,” Mike Tanev said.

“Turbo” is the right nickname, though. Can’t stop, won’t stop. Brandon Tanev might not be a star, but the Seattle left wing will usually make things memorable.

When the Kraken turned in a stinker of a performance in late December, coach Dave Hakstol excused Tanev by name. When breaking down Seattle’s surge to first place in the Pacific Division entering the NHL All-Star break, Tanev’s full and enthusiastic participation must be mentioned.

“Whenever he’s around, you tend to know it,” defenseman Vince Dunn said. “The vibe in the room tends to be a little bit different.”

To label Tanev as “intense” doesn’t provide the whole picture.

“He’s actually a pretty sensitive guy. He’s got a big heart,” Dunn said. “He carries that strong persona all the time, but deep down, once you get to know him, he’s not as serious as he seems.”

On the ice, Tanev is known for being fast and relentless, conscious of where the line is but rarely crossing it. Through 374 career games in a physical, agitating role, the 31-year-old has never been fined or suspended.

“If you are going to be that player, you have to do it within the confines of the game,” Tanev said.

The consistent effort has helped endear him to the Kraken fan base. Is there a scoring chance there? An errant bounce to pounce on? Tanev can often be found at the goal mouth, just making sure, while everyone else is preparing for the next wave of attack behind him.

Off the ice he’s known for that wide-eyed mug shot, intricate pregame routines – and even more long-shot odds to make the NHL than your average prospect from the Toronto area.

The Tanev brothers – Christopher, Brandon and Kyle – could be found outside playing any one of a half-dozen sports while growing up. Mike said 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Tracy Wilson, a Canadian former competitive ice dancer and hockey mom, helped teach the boys to skate.

Mom Sophie tended to put a positive spin on any performance.

“My dad is obviously an individual who loves sports and takes pride in sports and pushed us to be our best in those situations,” Brandon said. “Without him, I don’t think my brother and I would be where we are.

“Obviously there were times where things were a little difficult. But it’s tough love in the sense of working with your family. He always wanted the best for us and pushed us to be our best.”

But there was an issue. Brandon was 4 -foot-10 in ninth grade, Mike said, and riding the bench. Older, but not much taller brother Chris had been cut from seven teams at his level. Mike pulled Brandon off his team, and the family regrouped for reasons financial, logical and psychological.

Brandon famously didn’t play organized hockey for 4½ years – the usually critical years from 14½ to 19, or the second-to-last year of juniors. The brothers played roller hockey and for their high schools, and they made close friends. That’s a tough break to come back from, but Mike said he tried to keep them involved and motivated, and kept wheeling and dealing behind the scenes.

“ ‘When you grow, I promise you you’ll get on a junior team,’ ” he recalled saying to them.

“They knew they had the ability to play. But they knew, probably, that people didn’t want them for one thing and one thing only.”

Eventually both brothers hit growth spurts, found landing spots and went on to play in college – Chris at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and Brandon at Providence College, where he won a national championship in 2015.

Brandon says he saw the way forward in hockey, and it’s more or less what he’s doing now – killing penalties, blocking shots, being noticeable in ways that don’t show up on the score sheet.

“In order to get to the next level, I think you need to have an understanding of what you are and what type of player you are and how you’re going to be effective for the team,” he said. “I understood early on.”

Added Mike: “He’s a grinder. He goes in to forecheck, backcheck, kill penalties, put the fear of God in defensemen. I said, ‘I promise you if you do that, you’ll play 10 years in the NHL making a [$1 million] a year.’ ”

After the gap years, the speed that had been his calling card was still there. That chaotic energy that had been there since he learned to walk, Mike said, was, too.

“Brandon doesn’t slow the game down. Brandon doesn’t know how to slow the game down,” his dad said. “Brandon just wants to be fast.

“He didn’t care if you were 6-foot-5. He’d want to punch you through the glass.”

But again, while being hyperaware of his surroundings. There’s the occasional fight – only one in each season with the Kraken. He’s tied for seventh on the team in penalty minutes. Hakstol said Tanev “wears his emotions on his sleeve,” but added that he doesn’t take bad penalties.

“He drives his emotions in a way that fuels him and fuels his game,” Hakstol said.

Tanev was Seattle’s expansion draft pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was third on the team in goals during the Kraken’s inaugural season when he had his wings clipped in a freak accident. A Dec. 18 knee injury and subsequent ACL surgery cost him the rest of the campaign.

He was ready in time for the start of training camp.

“Those injuries aren’t easy to come back from. It’s a lot of patience and a lot of hard work,” Dunn said.

Tanev’s energy has rubbed off on his teammates, and he is at least in part responsible for the breakout season Dunn is having. Tanev roped Dunn in on his offseason plan with Gary Roberts, a sports performance consultant for the Kraken who continues to work with high-profile NHL players during the summers at the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre outside of Toronto.

“He recommended that I train with him in the summer, and it’s probably been the best thing that I’ve ever done for my career,” Dunn said. “He thought maybe a change would be good for me. I knew I had a lot more to give, especially to this team.”

Dunn has melded his offensive leanings with improved defense as a member of Seattle’s top blue-line pairing. Meanwhile Tanev tied his career high of 15 assists, set in 2018-19 with the Winnipeg Jets, on Jan. 28. He’s four points from a career-high 29 and sits third on the team in hits with 117.

Defenseman Will Borgen pointed to Tanev and Yanni Gourde as two of the most in-shape players in a room full of elite athletes. Both play up and down the lineup and alongside anyone who could use a boost.

“It’s pretty crazy how he can do that, how fast he’s moving at all times,” Borgen said. “He’s in incredible shape. He can fly around all night. I don’t think I could skate that fast for that long.”

And when the game’s over, it’s time for the breakdown from Tanev’s dad. Mike gives his notes to methodical, diligent Calgary Flames defenseman Chris and pesky, tireless Kraken winger Brandon. Chris already knows what’s coming. Sometimes it gets contentious with the latter, as Brandon “values his own opinions,” per Mike.

It’s another opportunity to root around, looking for more. To grow in this supporting but important role at his sport’s highest level.

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