From Russia with love, dad

JOE WARMINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

All Brandon Sugden wanted for Christmas was to give his dad the gift of watching him play in an NHL game.

Seems that gift is still hard to come by and his dad may have to wait until next year.

But how about the KHL, dad?

During his hockey career, the 31-year-old former St. Michael's Buzzer has played in the GTHL, OHL, QSPHL, LNAH, ECHL and the AHL.

The 1996 fifth-round Maple Leafs draft pick has played for the Sudbury Wolves, London Knights, Barrie Colts, Dayton Bombers, Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, Peoria Rivermen, Worcester IceCats, Verdun Dragons, Syracuse Crunch, St. Jean Chiefs, Hartford Wolf Pack and Hershey Bears.

He suited up in rookie exhibition games with the Leafs and St. Louis Blues. He also played in eight pre-season NHL games for the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals.

"I think that covers all the leagues and teams," teases his dad, Travis, yesterday from his home north of Queensville. "Are there any more?"

Well, as a matter of fact, yes. On Friday, on another continent, Brandon "Sugar" Sugden adds HC Vityaz Chekhov to his list as he makes his debut in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

You may remember his story from the 2008-09 season, how NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly graciously waived his retired status to allow a tryout with the Islanders.

The Sugden journey continues.

You can safely say this tough guy has been on some long bus rides in his 12 years as a minor league hockey enforcer, with more than 2,300 penalty minutes.

But heading to a town near Moscow is his longest ride yet.

"I am very excited," says Brandon, before taking off from Pearson last night. "It's another adventure and the dream is still alive."

The dream is also that of his family, including wife Crystal and kids Beau, 21/2, and Anthony, 14, mom Jonna and of course dad Travis.

Less than two years ago, Travis, now 65, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, now in stage four and it's spread to his lungs.

"They gave me three months to live," laughs Travis. "That was 18 months ago.

He says, "I am not going to let it beat me" and plans to "stick around" to witness his boy finally getting that first crack at a real life NHL game.

"As a kid playing for St. Mike's we saw on the wall of the arena the picture of all the players who went on to the NHL," says Travis. The list includes alumni like Turk Broda, Tim Horton, Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon, Mike Walton and Joe Primeau.

But also on the wall are lesser-known players like Harvey Teno, who played five games for the Detroit Red Wings in 1938-39.

"You just have to have played at least one regular season game to be on there," says Travis. "It would be great if Brandon could someday join them."

He's come close in the past and perhaps, never closer than this season when he signed with the AHL's Hershey Bears and was given a tryout with the Washington Capitals.

Look on YouTube -- and if you play in the KHL, I recommend you do -- you will see his two slugfests with NHL heavyweight Rangers' Donald Brashear where Brandon more than held his own.

"I really thought I was going to make that team," says Brandon.

But the Caps decided it was happy with the team's toughness.

It left him with no reason to continue in Hershey and he decided to take his fists to Russia and join former NHLers Chris Simon and Darcy Verot.

"Washington and Hershey have treated me very well and they realize I have to take care of my family," says Brandon. "Who knows with that Olympic-sized ice rink maybe I will improve and still get another NHL shot. If not this year, maybe next. I know my dad will hang in there."

"Maybe he's doing this just to keep me alive," laughs Travis. "He just won't quit."

He comes from that kind of stock.

In 1966, it was Travis Sugden who sparred with George Chuvallo at Sully's Gym as the heavyweight trained for his legendary fight with Muhammad Ali.

"After taking one of his punches, the cancer is a cake walk," says Travis.

"Whether it's the NHL, AHL or KHL, I am so proud of him," says Travis. "But I do wonder if St. Mike's would ever put up the picture of a former Buzzer who played in the KHL?"

JOE.WARMINGTON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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