Tyler Hanson and Nolan Parrish are brothers, but not from the same family. They are hockey bros.
The teens have played hockey together for four years growing up in the Rogue Valley Youth Hockey Association program. Now they both have big opportunities to sharpen their skills at hockey-based national development schools far from home.
That means they will go separate ways this fall for the first time since they met on the ice at The RRRink in Medford four years ago. Hanson, who turned 14 Friday, and Parrish, 15, started hockey at different ages, but from the time they met they became fast friends and naturals on the ice.
“It is going to be real weird,” says Parrish. “I have always been around him and he has been my best friend all of these years.”
But as Hanson adds, “It’s not like we will never see each other.”
That’s because Hanson, who will attend Delta Hockey Academy in British Columbia, and Parrish, who is headed for Colorado to attend high school and compete with the Rocky Mountain Roughriders, will still face off at a few tournaments on the road. They will stay with the families of teammates at the hockey schools.
Going on the road with their skates and sticks is nothing unusual for this pair. The past few summers, they played in tournaments, traveling to places such as Calgary, Las Vegas and Duluth, Minnesota.
Last season was the highlight. In their third year playing with the AA Junior Portland Winter Hawks, they capped off the winter season by capturing the junior under-14 national championship, winning all but one of their six games in Coral Springs, Florida.
Hanson scored five goals with two assists. Parrish, as a defenseman, had two assists. Hanson was third in points in the tournament, and Parrish earned two points for his assists.
Hanson was just 5 years old when he discovered hockey. Under the tutelage of coach John Andrews, he quickly grew into a skilled player, who now plays forward.
Parrish was a late bloomer, seeing hockey for the first time on a fifth-grade field trip to The RRRink with his dad, Jim Parrish, as chaperone. Having played hockey just four years, he has blossomed as a defenseman.
So did their friendship on and off the ice.
Tyler’s dad, John Hanson, knows a thing or two about hockey. He grew in hockey-mad Canada in northwestern Ontario. Although he didn’t play as a young person, he loved the game and carried that love when he brought his family to the Rogue Valley.
Now he is co-owner of the junior hockey Southern Oregon Spartans, who play a 52-game season in the Western States Hockey League for 16- to 20-year-olds.
The Spartans are a college prep team. John Hanson says in the past seven years, more than 70 of their players have gone on to play college-level hockey.
The Spartans have given their strong fan base at The RRRink something to cheer about, finishing second in the six-team division last year.
The hockey horizon keeps expanding for Tyler Hanson and Parrish. After playing AA hockey out of Portland, moving up to the Junior Winter Hawks for three years and competing in tryout camps, they went on to win the nationals in April.
They are now two of just a few teens in the region skilled, academically qualified and lucky enough to attend national development camps, such as those in California and Colorado.
“They never would have had the opportunities without the dedication of the Rogue Valley Youth Hockey Association,” John Hanson says. “They’ve been playing together since Day 1. On the ice, they know what each other is doing at all times.”
John and Robin Hanson’s daughter, Katelyn, also has played hockey the past two years for the AAA girls team out of Seattle. John says all of the traveling through the years and now the expense of Tyler’s hockey academy are not cheap, to put it mildly. But, he adds, “seeing the passion he has for it, we had no other option.”
Jim Parrish also caught the hockey bug. Besides enjoying Nolan’s young career on the ice, he has taken up the sport, too, playing in the men’s league at The RRRink.
“That’s the beauty of this place,” Jim says. “You can play at all levels here.”
Nolan says playing on defense means split-second thinking and then equally fast reaction.
“I’m thinking, how I can make it so this guy can’t get around me and I can shut him down,” he says.
On offense, Tyler Hanson says a forward must closely read the defense while pushing the puck to the goal.
“You have to make them make the first move so you know what to do next,” he says, such as passing off or setting up for a shot on goal.
This summer, Parrish heads for San Jose for a weeklong camp. Tyler will be in Colorado in July at another hockey camp. The district nominates young players to attend the U.S. national development camps. John says Tyler was one of two and Parrish was one of three to be invited.
At age 15, exceptional players are eligible to be drafted by Western Hockey League teams, such as the Portland Winter Hawks.
After a quick photo shoot Tuesday at The RRRrink, Parrish and Tyler were so absorbed skating together they had to be reminded that it was time for interviews off the ice.
It will be quite the experience away from home for the young Rogue Valley hockey players, not to mention being away from their family and from each other — at least most of the time.
Hanson and Parrish are not shy about their eventual goals. The National Hockey League, of course. They know that very few of thousands of players from North America and overseas get a crack at that plateau. But why not give it a whirl?
Tyler likes the Pittsburgh Penguins. Parrish’s favorite team is the San Jose Sharks.
If their dreams come true, they’ll reunite on the ice at the highest level.