Every day, be it after practice, before a game or somewhere else in the midst of the NHL’s hectic daily schedule, Blackhawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek calls Calgary.
There, his 14-month-older sister, Madison, is awaiting the ring.
‘‘They say whenever you have a twin, you’re never alone,’’ Koekkoek said. ‘‘Even though my sister [and I] aren’t specifically twins, I think we’re close enough where we’ve always had that person to talk to.’’
The Koekkoek family is invested deeply in hockey. Madison works as the social-media coordinator for Hockey Canada and is pursuing a career in sports media. Slater, 25, is in the early stages of his sixth NHL season and his second with the Hawks.
When Slater — the 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft — was called up to the Lightning in 2015, more than 200 family members were in attendance for his second game, when the Lightning visited the Senators.
But the road since hasn’t been as smooth. Slater struggled to live up to his draft billing with the Lightning, then was unloaded for defenseman Jan Rutta in a midseason trade last winter. He has found a slightly more favorable role with the Hawks, but he still has been a healthy scratch in eight of their first 15 games this season.
Through all the highs and lows, however, he always has had Madison to turn to.
‘‘Anyone will tell you the poise that he’s carried through that process and the ability to maintain confidence is something that’s truly remarkable,’’ Madison said. ‘‘Slater walks into the rink and treats everybody with the utmost care or respect, be it in the locker room or be it somebody who works in the facility or drives the bus.
‘‘That speaks to his character more than anything, and I think that’s what I draw from him.’’
Madison was a master’s student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, through the early years of Slater’s professional career. Back then, her advice came strictly from her heart, with little specific familiarity about the NHL’s inner workings to draw from.
Now, however, the dynamic is different.
‘‘I used to like it because, when I’d talk to her, she had nothing to do with hockey,’’ Slater said. ‘‘She’d just give me a personal perspective or just help me through it in different ways than a hockey person would help me through it. Now she understands the business, and it’s a different kind of talk now. She sees things both on the ice and off and tries to let me know. It’s evolved that way.’’
Madison travels several times a season to see Slater play in person. Last season, it was to Edmonton in February and to San Jose in March, when brother and sister spent a Hawks day off as tourists in San Francisco. This season, it’ll be to Chicago a few weeks from now.
These are the moments a hockey family lives for. Driving 300km from Calgary to Edmonton after work to get to see him rock over 20 minutes of ice - a memory I’ll never forget. Always a #proudsister.@NHLBlackhawks #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/Nxtaov4Qo8— Madison Koekkoek (@madisonkoekkoek) February 6, 2019
Usually, though, the Koekkoeks are connected throughout the winter via their televisions. Despite the geographic distance between Slater in Chicago, Madison in Calgary and their parents’ and extended family’s homes in Winchester, Ontario — about 30 miles south of Ottawa — their NHL Center Ice package keeps everyone united.
‘‘It never gets old when you see our last name go across the TV,’’ Madison said. ‘‘It’s a pretty cool feeling. I know my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, we all yell, ‘Oh, hi, Slater!’ when we see him across the screen.’’
They’ve gotten that experience plenty of times, no doubt — Slater is up to 114 NHL appearances and counting — but it’s frustrating nonetheless for them not to see his name every night.
Despite Slater’s somewhat infrequent playing time, he has performed consistently well as a bottom-pair defenseman for coach Jeremy Colliton, ranking fourth on the Hawks last season in Corsi rating (shot-attempt ratio) and second this season. So it’s somewhat surprising he hasn’t been given a steadier role.
Slater appeared in line for more playing time when Connor Murphy was put on injured reserve, but Adam Boqvist’s call-up quickly relegated him back to the No. 7 spot on the depth chart.
‘‘When he’s got the chance to play, he’s been solid for us, and that’s kind of where he slots in right now in the lineup,’’ Colliton said Friday. ‘‘I don’t think we have any complaints with him. He’s a great teammate, and he’s done his job when he’s got his chance.’’
The Koekkoeks haven’t lost hope that they one day will fulfill a dream of sister interviewing brother before a game.
‘‘I don’t know who would get the last word in,’’ Slater said, chuckling. ‘‘She’s got the gift of the gab, as they say, so I don’t know if she’d actually let me answer the questions or if she’d answer them for me.”
“It’d be a special moment.’’