Zary’s rookie season success is a family affair
As a self-described wild child, Connor Zary is grateful for the support he received along his journey to the NHL – particularly from his older brother, too.
Feature photo: IG / @connorzary7
If walls could talk, the ones in the basement of the Saskatoon home Connor Zary grew up in would have plenty of tales to tell.
The Zary family home was always filled with love, laughter and plenty of hockey.
Connor, currently in the middle of a sensational rookie season with the Calgary Flames, logged countless hours of high-energy mini-sticks hockey in the basement with his older brother Trey, but not without some damage.
“My brother put me through the wall in our basement,” recalled Connor. “We looked at each other when it happened like, ‘We are going to be in big trouble.’ Ten years later, you look back and it is pretty funny.”
A sentiment shared by Trey.
“Putting Connor through the wall was probably one of the better memories,” admitted Trey with a laugh.
There are plenty of other fond – and less physical – hockey-related recollections between the siblings.
From outdoor rinks to the open road, the brothers spent countless hours together bonding over the game.
“Looking back on it, some of my fondest memories were flooding the backyard together, ploughing each other into the snowbanks, and maybe – just maybe – him laughing at my inability to stop with my left foot,” recalled Trey.
“Maybe there’s a reason why he’s in the NHL and I’m not. The road trips all across the country when we were kids were always some of my favourite times, even if I complained about it a few hours here and there.”
Looking back, Connor has sympathy – an abundance of it – for what his brother endured on occasion.
“He was busy with school and his studies, but he always made time for me, whether it was on the outdoor rink or in the basement playing mini-sticks. I was a pretty energetic, wild kid, and I was always wanting to do something. Having him around – he was much bigger than me – he always kept me in line.
“My whole childhood – bless my brother, he tagged along for all of it and was always a big supporter – it was always about hockey for us.”
As Connor’s hockey career blossomed and playing in the NHL became more of a reality, the bond between the brothers grew as well.
When Connor left home in 2017 to play for the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, he and Trey remained close.
It stayed that way after Connor was drafted 24th overall by the Flames in the 2020 NHL Draft and continued during his time in the American Hockey League with the Stockton Heat and then the Calgary Wranglers.
And it has continued throughout Connor’s first NHL season.
“When I watch him play, I’m just so proud,” said Trey. “It’s surreal to see him at this level still, but I’m so happy for him.”
The centre has put together an impressive rookie campaign, one that has yielded nine goals and 22 points in his first 33 games.
His NHL debut, made Nov. 1, was highlighted by a goal on his first shot less than six minutes into the game.
Accolades for his strong play, from both teammates and coaching staff, abound but Connor continues to stay grounded by remembering the words of his parents, Scott and Kathleen.
“With my mom and dad, it was all about the day-to-day things – to enjoy life, to enjoy hockey and to have fun. That is probably the biggest thing I took away from when I was a kid.
“You want to try to be happy and have fun every day. That is something that has always stuck with me.
“Being a Canadian kid, having that chance to play the game outside, you realize from an early age that hockey should always be fun. When you get to this level, you understand that even more.”
Connor isn’t the only Zary who is enjoying the moment and remembering trademark holes in the family household covered by his quick-thinking son.
On a recent Flames' dad and mentors trip, Scott Zary was one the dads beaming with pride throughout the stops in Arizona and Las Vegas, recalling Connor's skill at the tender age of four.
“To see how much my dad enjoyed it, the smile on his face, knowing I was playing in the NHL – that was special,” said Connor.
“You saw how emotional my dad can get. Everything my mom, my dad and my brother have done for me – travelling, being a fan, showing up to the games – no matter what everyone was doing, they always had the energy and enthusiasm to take me to practices or drag them onto the outdoor rink or the backyard to shoot pucks.”
Those moments have become even more meaningful over time, especially now.
“There are good and bad days, maybe you had a bad game, or it was a stressful time, but seeing my dad being proud of me – that makes those tough times easier. I am grateful for the support I have. It is something that motivates me.”
And others too.
“Seeing the boy who used to annoy me sometimes become the man he is today and translate that to his efforts on the ice – it motivates me and everyone else around him to be better in all aspects of our lives,” said Trey.
“Seeing him continue to work on his game and noticing improvements day in and day out is something I’m so happy to see.”
Then there is Connor, the person.
“Related to hockey, I’m impressed at the way he manages his life, how he handles those suppertime interruptions for an autograph – it still makes me smile every time.
“I also think that, while he gets a lot of credit for his on-ice smarts, he’s very intelligent in all walks of life. His knowledge of history and interest in it is incredible.
“Beyond that, I think his love for people and generosity throughout his communities all his life is something I have always looked up to, even as his older brother.”
Does that mean all is forgotten for the mini-stick wall incident all those years ago?
“Absolutely,” said Connor. “We probably felt guilty at the time, but you look back and have a laugh now. We were just brothers enjoying hockey and spending time together.”
Just like now.