WORCESTER — Maybe more than any other sport, professional hockey is a family affair.
Check any roster in any league and you are likely to find a cousin, brother or son of another pro player, so it is not surprising to find that the most recognizable name in Worcester, MA hockey history, Terry Virtue, has a son on the first rung of the ladder to the pros.
Former Esmark Stars defenseman Braeden Virtue, 16, is the youngest player on the Quebec Remparts, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), one of the most storied franchises in Canadian Junior hockey history.
“I’m enjoying it so far,” Braeden Virtue said in a phone interview from Quebec. “I think I’ve improved a lot and feel I’m better off here than playing hockey back home.”
Home has been Worcester for the Virtues for about 2½ years.
Terry was an original Worcester IceCat and played six seasons there in two different stints, from 1994-98 and then again from 2002-04.
Braeden, who was born in Hartford when his dad was playing for the WolfPack in 2001 and was pretty young during Terry’s playing days, was attending high school in Worcester before choosing to head up to Quebec ... where he is doing much of his schooling online.
“I think I remember us living in Worcester, but just a little bit. It’s not that clear,” Braeden said. “But I saw him play, for sure, when he was in Austin and Binghamton but that’s about all I can recall.”
Braeden and family returned to Massachusetts after playing in Pittsburgh, where Braeden skated for the Stars during the 2014-15 season, while Dad Terry served as a co-head coach (along with current 16U assistant coach Mark Hastings).
A good student who would like to be a dentist if pro hockey does not work out, Braeden felt he had two potential roads to a hockey career — major junior or NCAA — and went with junior hockey as Plan A.
“I had some interest in college hockey,” he said, “but when I looked closely, it didn’t sound as promising ... so I came up here for 48 hours to see what this was like and I thought that this might give me the best chance to play (pro).”
Braeden is a defenseman, like Terry, and like almost every dad, the Worcester Hockey Hall of Famer thinks his son is better than him.
“He’s got more skill than I did,” Terry said, “but does play with an edge like me, and that’s what he’ll wind up playing like.”
Quebec is arguably the best city in Canada to play junior hockey in. The Remparts are in an NHL-ready building and in recent seasons have averaged bigger crowds than some NHL teams.
“It’s a pretty cool environment,” Braeden said.
Terry and wife Lori make the drive to Quebec as often as possible and it is a fairly manageable one, but their son is still a long way from home.
“You know what — that’s been pretty hard,” Terry said, “because we’ve done everything together since he was a little guy. He’d always come to rink with me when we had optional skates, even when he was a little baby. We’ve always been two peas in a pod, so it’s tough, and you do miss him that way.
“My wife misses him a ton, and it was her biggest fear. She kept saying, ‘I won’t let it happen, I won’t let it happen’ but it’s what he’s always wanted and this is what’s best for him, and six hours isn’t that far.”
Braeden played U16 hockey last year for the Islanders Hockey Club, based out of Tyngsboro, and the "Q" is a big adjustment from that.
“It’s huge step, obviously,” said. “I’m not playing against guys my own age. Some are 20 years old and it’s crazy, but I’m playing against some first-round picks. I’ve gotten better with speed and strength, and being younger, it can be hard to compete at their level.”
Braeden has played in a little more than half the Remparts games, 19 to date, and has picked up a pair of assists (0-2-2), along with 15 penalty minutes, including his first fight.
Terry played for 17 different teams in 17 seasons as a pro hockey player. It is a not a life for everyone, but seems to be part of the Virtue DNA.
“He has been into hockey his whole life,” Terry said. “I can say that I have never regretted what I did, my hockey career. I made a lot of friends and saw a lot of the world. One regret is that I didn’t get an education, and we’ve been pushing that on (Braeden), to get an education no matter what.”
He is getting one in Quebec, both online and on-ice.
(Reprinted from Original Story in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette)