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After four close regular-season games and one playoff game, there's not a whole lot of love lost between the two teams left standing in the NHL's Western Conference. That is, of course, unless you live in the Aldrich household.
Many view the Blackhawks-Sharks West finals matchup as tradition versus expansion, battle-tested veterans versus young upstarts, David versus ... well, slightly smaller David. But to the Aldriches, it's father versus son. And for family matriarch Susie, it has meant choosing between rooting for her husband Mike Aldrich, the Sharks' longtime equipment manager, or her son Brad Aldrich, a video coach for the Hawks.
"I have to put the Sharks above the Blackhawks right now," she says. "Mike's been doing this for 17 years and I just feel like he's done his time and he's earned it. I hope for [Brad] someday, too, but I'd like to see the Sharks get it first."
It's a matchup the family has been bracing for since the beginning of the season. All along, both teams have been favored to reach this point. Even though it's hardly a surprise, both Susie and Mike say this matchup is all of their wildest dreams come true.
"Even towards the beginning part of the year, we kind of figured that both teams were gonna compete at a high level this year, and we were hoping it would come down to this," Mike says.
"Be careful what you wish for, that's kind of what we've been saying," Susie adds. "It was actually really funny during Game 1 because I know I'm a Sharks fan, but when I got there, it was just so much emotion."
The Aldriches raised Brad and his brother Jason in the family home near the Shark Tank. Both boys grew up as Sharks fans, as well. In fact, Brad says he still follows and cheers for his childhood heroes when he's not working. But how about now, when a trip to the Stanley Cup finals is at stake?
"I am a Blackhawk," Brad says emphatically. "When Buff [Chicago RW Dustin Byfuglien] scored the winning goal in Game 1, I knew I was a Blackhawk." As for his brother, who played college hockey at Finlandia University in Michigan, Brad said, "I know for a fact my brother is still teal blood. He's got a win-win, though, because either way he's going to the finals."
This series is the cherry on top of what has already been a special year for father and son. The pair already experienced another once-in-a-lifetime father-son moment earlier this year when they both served in similar capacities for the U.S. Olympic team that took home silver in Vancouver.
"That was really cool," Brad says. "We were all together, the whole family in Vancouver, and we ended up getting a silver medal out of it, and that experience has already made this year pretty special."
The family has gotten even more bonding time the past few weeks, with Brad arriving in San Jose several days before the opener of the Western Conference finals on Sunday. While family members have gotten together for dinner every night since Brad got to San Jose, their employers need not worry about either giving away the blueprints to organizational success. In fact, since his son is so far away and busy during hockey season, Mike says the last thing the two want to discuss is work.
"We're a hockey family and we know how important it is to each of us individually, and we honestly don't sit around and talk a lot of hockey," he says. "We might talk about 'what restaurant did you eat at,' but we don't get into a lot of 'what's Patrick Kane into.'"
And while father and son are proud of the other's accomplishments, they are making one thing clear -- each wants to be the first Aldrich to have his name engraved onto Lord Stanley's chalice.
"Our immediate family, we'd like to be the first ones to take that trip to the finals since we've never been there," Mike says. "We've got a lot of family that's been Sharks fans for a number of years."
"We're both competitive people, but even now, we don't talk much about the two teams," Brad counters. "I'm definitely not a Sharks fan now, and I want to be the one to have the Cup at the end."
Matthew Lindner is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.
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