A builder of champions
October 27, 2017
Everyone is born with potential.
Individuals, however, excel when it is properly cultivated.
Karl and Maria Subban know a thing or two about developing potential.
Two of their sons are in the National Hockey League (NHL), another one is in the American Hockey League (AHL) which is a rung below the NHL and their two daughters are teachers.
“Potential is the suitcase that has children’s skills, abilities and talents and it is the lens through which we must see our children,” said Karl Subban who, with ‘Toronto Star’ opinions editor Scott Colby co-authored, ‘How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School & Life’.
Mixing personal stories with lessons about goal-setting, perseverance and accomplishment which he learned as a coach and principal,, the book will allow parents, teachers, coaches and mentors to apply the same principles as they help young people in their lives to identify, develop and live their dreams.
Norris trophy winning defenceman Pernell Karl (P.K) Subban is in his eighth season in the NHL while goaltender Malcolm Subban, after two games with the Boston Bruins, was claimed off waivers by the Vegas Golden Knights two weeks ago. Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2013, Jordan Subban is a defenceman with the Utica Comets.
A Toronto District School Board (TDSB) elementary and secondary school teacher for the last 11 years, Nastassia Subban is seconded to York University where she is a course director for teacher candidates while Natasha Subban uses her visual art expertise to engage students.
The family patriarch said there is no blueprint for producing successful children.
“We had some good ideas and, as time went on, the children challenged us and we challenged ourselves so that we could serve them well,” Subban, 59, said. “Parenting is about getting better which is something we sometimes forget we need to do.”
Subban and his Montserrat-born wife did everything they could to facilitate their sons’ hockey development despite the high cost of equipment, registration and travel.
“When the boys started out, we weren’t afraid to use second hand equipment,” he said. “They didn’t have to have the best equipment because they were just learning and starting out. We cleaned and sewed equipment and the kids were grateful for it. After a while, it really didn’t matter what their skates looked like. P.K started out wearing Nastassia’s skates which were white.”
Though hockey equipment is expensive, Subban -- who was an ambassador for Hyundai Hockey Helpers which is a program that offers grants to Canadian children to cover registration and equipment fees -- said there are ways of getting around exorbitant costs.
“We didn’t have some of the programs there are today to help parents with the cost,” he pointed out. “There are many used equipment stores and I when I went to fundraisers for hockey teams, I bid on equipment that my boys could use. I would pay about $20 for a piece of equipment that might cost me about $100 in a hockey store. There are ways of getting around it.”
While subjected to racism, Subban said he didn’t allow it to prevent his sons from progressing in the sport.
“Racism is a part of life and I had the mindset from the beginning that it wasn’t going to the reason why they couldn’t achieve,” he said. “We know that racism is out there, but I also see it as a distraction. When we allow ourselves to be distracted, we are taking our eyes off the destination and we will never get there. There were many times when we could have cut short the journey, but my boys love hockey too much. When you love something, you go through whatever is presented in your way. They believed in their potential, we believed in them and nothing was going to deny them.”
He admitted there were times he and his wife had to control their emotions after being pushed to the limit.
“We are the protectors of our children and when things are not going their way or you see the world is not being fair to them or they are not being treated the same way as everyone, you want to do something about it,” he said. “For the most part, I realised that if didn’t kill them and it didn’t hurt them, it wasn’t going to stop them from achieving their dreams and goals.”
Though his sons worked hard and were talented, Subban said he didn’t know they were going to be NHL draft eligible.
P.K was drafted 43rd by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2007 draft while younger brother Malcolm was the 24th pick by Boston Bruins five years ago.
It was not until P.K attended his first training camp with the Belleville Bulls as a 16-year-old did Subban realise his eldest son could make it in the Ontario Hockey League.
“He had a NCCA opportunity and I thought that was the route he was going to take,” he said. “But at the training camp, P.K was the first player interviewed in our presence and coach George Burnett said he thought P.K was going to play at least at the AHL level. That was all I wanted to hear.”
A two-time world junior gold medallist, P.K made his Montreal Canadiens debut in the 2009-10 season and played 434 games with the 24-time Stanley Cup champions before being traded in June 2016 to the Nashville Predators.
Ten months before the trade, P.K – who agreed to an eight-year $72 million contract in August 2014 -- donated $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital which said it was ‘the largest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history’.
Subban said he wasn’t upset with the trade that sent his son to an American city.
“Montreal was another opportunity for P.K,” he said. “It is a blessing that people get opportunities to do what they love. Many great players have been traded and will be traded. Montreal gave P.K a chance to live his dream. They made him rich and they gave him an opportunity to be famous and be the best defenceman. How could I have a bad taste in my mouth after they traded him?”
In the wake of national anthem protests by Black athletes, P.K said last month said he wouldn’t kneel or otherwise protest during the American national anthem.
Though his son uses him as a sounding board, Subban said P.K didn’t consult him on this controversial issue.
“P.K is 28 years old,” he said. “I cleared the way, paved the way then got out of the way. I heard what he said and I am so happy that he stood up said what he believed in his heart. There are injustices in society and we must stand up to them.”
Migrating from Jamaica to Sudbury at age 11, Subban is concerned that sport is being used as a platform to divide people.
“When I came to Canada, sport was the vehicle that helped with my integration,” he said. “In Sudbury where I was raised, I was introduced to hockey which gave me something to love and do and meet new friends. It also gave me a reason to dream. Two years after my arrival, I was sitting in middle school rooting for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series with Russia. Sport has the power to unite us and now politics is creeping into it. I think there are other venues where we can kneel and stand up for those things we need to stand up for. But I don’t want sports to be that platform because what is going to happen is that a wall will be erected instead of a bridge and it will divide us even more.”
One of the very few Black families in a predominantly French neighbourhood in Sudbury, Subban discovered hockey as a 12-year-old in 1970 and graduated from Lakehead University where he was an outstanding basketball player and camp instructor.
“It is so important to have dreams because if it wasn’t for the dream of playing in the National Basketball Association which is the reason I went to Lakehead, I wouldn’t have discovered something about Karl Subban and that is the passion for working with children,” he added.
Starting as an elementary school teacher, Subban rose to the rank of principal with the TDSB before retiring in 2013 after three decades.
He spent six of his last seven years at Brookview Middle School in the Jane & Finch community where he’s back again after the board recalled him last month to serve as principal on a part-time basis.
“When I started there, Brookview was barely crawling,” he noted in the book. “You could say it was crawling with difficulty. Six years later, the school was walking with some difficulty.”
Subban is glad to be back in familiar territory.
“I miss the children,” he said. “Teaching, they say, is a calling, but what I realise today is that our children are calling us and they are very loud about it because they need our help, support and direction.”
The sport of cricket was Subban’s first love before he came to Canada. He idolized Sir Garfield Sobers who is considered the greatest all-rounder to play the game.
“Sobers was my Wayne Gretzy and that is who I wanted to be,” he said. “I walked around my Portland College community in Clarendon with a bat and played the sport night and day. I just came back from Barbados and it was such an honour to visit Kensington Oval and see Sobers’ statue outside the entrance to the ground. That was a touching moment for me.”