Amerks’ Stillman ready for ‘surreal’ experience facing brother

Photo: Micheline Veluvolu

by Andrew Mossbrooks | AHL On The Beat

Riley and Chase Stillman have been inseparable.

The pair of third-generation players are five years apart in age, but that gap was closed by their bond.

“We are very, very close,” said Riley, a 25-year-old defenseman who’s in his first season with the Rochester Americans. “We talk all the time.”

From watching television, to playing Xbox, to fishing trips with their Calder Cup champion grandfather Bud Stefanski, the Stillman brothers have done everything together. Riley bore the responsibilities of being the eldest sibling. Chase, 20, followed in his brother’s footsteps.

There is one thing, however, that Riley and Chase have never done, and that’s play hockey against each other. That is expected to change this weekend when Riley and the Amerks visit Chase and the Utica Comets on Saturday.

“This is the first time we’ve ever crossed paths in hockey,” said Riley. “We’re just old enough where we missed each other at every level growing up. This Saturday will be the first time. It will be really special for my family.”

The duo grew up entrenched in the sport. Their grandfather put up 425 points in the AHL and won a Calder Cup with the Maine Mariners in 1984, winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the AHL’s most valuable player during the playoffs.

Oh, and their father? That would be Cory Stillman, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and veteran of 16 years and over 1,000 games in the National Hockey League. You can add AHL All-Star to his resume, too, as Cory represented the Saint John Flames in 1995.

“It’s something that’s so special and I think at times we probably took it for granted,” said Riley, who grew up in NHL arenas watching dad play with Chase in tow. “At that time and age, I thought everybody’s dad played in the NHL. The kids we played with were the other kids of the guys on the team, so everyone’s dad was playing in the NHL. I just thought it was normal.”

Ask Riley about his father’s Stanley Cup run with Tampa Bay in 2004 and he’ll say he only remembers bits and pieces. He was 6 years old after all. Ask him about the Cup Cory won two years later with Carolina and you’ll get a different story.

“I didn’t miss a home game in the playoffs,” said Riley when reminiscing about 2006. “It was just so special. I remember everything. I remember stressing in the stands when they were losing or mad and just being ecstatic whenever they were winning. I remember going on the ice after it all. To have the opportunity to say my dad’s name is on the Stanley Cup not once but twice is so special and those are memories that I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

Chase Stillman (Photo: Jeff Pexton)

Like their father, both Riley and Chase have aspirations of getting to the peak of the sport. The older Stillman has been there. He’s played 158 NHL games between Buffalo, Vancouver, Chicago, and Florida – the same team their father played three seasons for at the tail end of his career. Riley hopes to find his way back to the NHL after beginning this season with the Amerks and returning to the AHL for the first time in nearly three years.

“There are some differences. You realize [things] you may have taken that for granted while you were up, but it’s been fun coming to the rink. I’ve gotten the opportunity to play more and play with a great group of guys here.”

The expectation is for Chase to get there sooner than later. The rookie forward was drafted in the first round with the 29th overall pick by New Jersey in 2021.

“It’s been great to see him grow and take the steps toward success that he’s had. I think he’s learned from me and some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way and taken the good things and implemented them. It’s just been awesome to see him grow and as a big brother you want to take care of him. We trained and lived together all summer. To see how much he’s progressed over the years has been unbelievable.”

Riley and Chase have taken similar paths that lead into Saturday. Now they’ll stare one another down in a regular-season game at the pro level for the first time ever.

“It’s going to be exciting and it’s surreal right now. It hasn’t really clicked yet. I think that morning it will feel real. To see that same number and same name on the other side is going to be surreal. There aren’t many guys that have number 61 but I’m not going to take it lightly on him,” Riley chuckled.

Riley would never just let his little brother win games growing up as a kid. He vividly remembers a ping-pong game where after winning he turned around and saw a paddle being chucked his way from a frustrated Chase.

Safe to assume Riley has no plans plan on taking it easy on him this time, either?

“Not a chance,” he laughed.