Now that they are rising stars in the NHL, making millions of dollars to play the game they love, it’s easy to forget things weren’t always this way for Chris and Anthony Stewart.
The Stewart brothers grew up poor around Galloway and Orton Park, a notoriously rough Scarborough neighbourhood known for broken homes, gangs, and drugs. The Stewart family, including the two boys and five younger sisters, struggled and often jumped from one residence to another .
The boys did have one thing in common with the rest of the kids in Canada: they dreamed of making it big in the NHL.
“When teachers asked you what you wanted to be when you’re grown up I’d always say hockey player,” older brother Anthony recalled. “The teacher would always say pick something else. I’d end up making something up like cop or something.”
Anthony was born in La-Salle, Quebec in 1985, and moved to Toronto the following year. Chris was born in Toronto in 1987. They both laced up their first pair of skates at the age of four and started playing hockey at five.
Anthony and his dad used to take the bus to the rink, or even walk if they lived close by. One cold winter morning, six-year-old Anthony and his dad were walking through a snowstorm at 5:30 a.m. on their way to a practice at Heron Park Arena on Lawrence Avenue.
As they trekked down the icy road, a car flew by and suddenly stopped and reversed back to them. The man inside the car was Bob Ziemendorf, a local Scarborough hockey dad. He had been driving his own son to practice when he decided to give the Stewarts a lift. Bob asked what time they finished and when the Stewarts walked out, he was there to drive them home.
The Ziemendorfs started driving the Stewarts to hockey regularly and the two families formed a close bond. The Ziemendorfs would go on to help the Stewarts through their toughest moments and even helped pay for the boys to play hockey.
“If it wasn’t for them (the Ziemendorfs) I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am today,” Anthony said.
Anthony was drafted 25th overall in the 2003 entry draft by the Florida Panthers. Chris would follow in his footsteps two years later, and was drafted 18th in 2005 by the Colorado Avalanche, a moment Anthony recalls as one of the proudest of his own career.
Chris has quickly found success in the NHL, and at the age of 23 he led the Avalanche with 28 goals and 64 points in the 2009-2010 season. He recently inked a two year $5.75-million contract with the team and is already posting big numbers this season with 24 points in 20 games.
Anthony, however, has had a tough time since reaching the NHL, and has spent most of his time in the minors. He has scored only eight goals in over 100 games, but four of those goals have come in the current season.
“The hard part isn’t getting there, it’s staying there,” said Anthony, sharing advice once told to him. “It’s all about timing and opportunity. Right now I’m getting a chance to play with some great players and I’m just going to try my best to run with it.”
Anthony scored his first career NHL hat trick earlier this season and has 11 points in 21 games with the Atlanta Thrashers.