Family ties bind Lynch brothers

by Dave Eminian

The Lynch Mob held a reunion back around the Christmas holiday, zeroing in on a turkey dinner, a temporary diversion no doubt a relief to those who’ve been pursued on the ice by this crew.

Peoria Rivermen defenseman Doug Lynch joined his brothers Scott, Jeff and Jason at their family home outside Vancouver, recalling the season they spent on the same team together and the night they made hockey history with the Spokane Chiefs.

A lot has happened for Doug Lynch since the brothers stood four astride on a blueline in Spokane in 2002-03.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Lynch, 22, was a second-round pick (43rd overall) by Edmonton in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and is already in his third AHL season. He made his NHL debut with the Oilers on Jan. 1, 2004, in a game at Minnesota.

"I was so nervous, listening to the anthem, standing there, but when the puck dropped it was like any game," Lynch said. "It was an awesome feeling to know I could play at that level."

Lynch is the most accomplished of his brothers so far. He played in the CHL’s Top Prospects Game in Calgary. He’s won a Memorial Cup championship. Earned AHL All-Star honors as a rookie with Toronto in 2003-04 (11 goals, 25 assists in 74 games). He played for in the annual Spengler Cup in , after Christmas.

He spent January and February rehabbing a knee injury, and as March arrived, returned to the ice for a conditioning stint at ECHL Alaska.

But he’s still waiting for a chance with the Blues, who acquired him from Edmonton, along with Rivermen teammate (and Memorial Cup teammate) Jeff Woywitka and Eric Brewer in an offseason deal for Chris Pronger.

"It’s tough for the Blues right now … because (of) the pending ownership change — the team for sale," Lynch said. "We don’t control those things. Our job is to play hard and maintain a good attitude. People give lip service to that all the time.

"But I’ve learned it’s really true."

There’s much more to his story.

After Doug Lynch, the next in line is Scott, 21, a 6-2, 205-pound defenseman who played 30 games at Spokane in 2002-03, and scored 21 goals in 95 games in the two seasons after that.

He transferred to the University of British Columbia — part of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport system — this season, but is out with a shoulder injury.

"People always ask which of us is the best, so we kind of rotate it," Scott Lynch said. "But I know Doug would give me a thumping when we were kids."

Jeff Lynch, 20, is a 6-0, 185-pound center/left wing in his final year with WHL Spokane. The team captain has nine goals, eight assists in 35 games this season, and has played 339 games for Spokane‘s franchise.

"We’re all competitive, like to battle each other," said Jeff Lynch, taking a break from a family ping-pong tournament victory over Scott moments before. "Playing together on one team was surreal, never thought I’d have the chance to play with my older brothers like that.

"We all took care of Jason back then. But this year, Jason is kind of taking care of us."

Jason Lynch, at 18 the baby, now is 6-4, 215, and over the summer was taken by Colorado in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft. He is Spokane‘s assistant captain.

"He’s a killer," Doug Lynch said. "The kid is a fighter, he’s got a bigger body than we do, all the heart, he could be special."

But if you want a scouting report on the Lynch brothers, it’s best to turn to their mother, Joan.

"Doug is the leader of the family," she said. "He’s an excellent role model for his brothers. As soon as he walks in here, they go to him for advice, then head to the hot tub for beers. They are best friends.

"Scott is a character, gets everyone laughing. He’s rowdy, and he’s the one who drives ’em all out.

"Jeff is a Seinfeld. Quick wit, and when you’re around him you have to be sharp and on your game.

"And Jason is the baby, but he’s got a strong personality, demands attention, and he stands up to everyone. He’s a strong kid."

The Spokane Chiefs sat in their locker room at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and listened as head coach Al Conroy read the starting lineup. "Tim Krymusa on left wing, Barry Brust in goal, and four Lynches," he said, sparking a roar from the team.

The Sutter brothers were six strong. Brent, Rich and Ron played together at WHL Lethbridge in 1980-82, and they shared that sibling record with Bob, Brad and Ken Gassoff, who played for Medicine Hat back in 1972-73.

But on this night in the 2002-03 season, hosting Kamloops, the Lynch family made hockey history, becoming the first ever to have four brothers on the same team, in the same game, and in fact on the same shift.

The local media dubbed them the Lynch Mob.

"Somebody out there is going to need five strong boys who all want to play hockey and reach a high level of the game, then land on the same team to beat us," Doug Lynch said. "I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like this again.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

The year before, Lynch had scored the game-winner in overtime to give Red Deer the prestigious Memorial Cup.

Lynch had returned to Red Deer to serve as captain, when the team suddenly traded him to Spokane for a sniper. Jeff Lynch was already there, drafted by the Chiefs from his amateur team. Scott came in next, available from Prince George after missing several weeks with a concussion.

The last piece was Jason, at the time a 15-year-old Spokane draftee called-up for a game.

"I played on teams with Scott growing up, but never with Jeff and Jason," Doug Lynch said. "Standing there on that blue line with my brothers, it was unbelievable to play with them. It was a record moment. Never happened before in 80 some years."

They lost, 5-2.

"What a nerve-wracking moment," Jason Lynch said. "I was 15, playing against 19-, 20-year-olds. But I knew I’d be OK. I had my three brothers around me."

The Lynch boys live just outside Vancouver, near Anmore and Coquitlam, with the Buntzen Lake Reservoir Park nearby and the U.S. border and Washington state about 30 miles away.

For 30 years their parents, Sandy and Joan, have operated Lynch Sports Sale in Vancouver, which distributes sports equipment to retails stores all over British Columbia.

The boys never lacked for equipment. Nor did they need to look further than their parents for lessons in work ethic.

"The boys played basketball, recreational football, lacrosse, golf, went skiing and played soccer when they were young," Joan Lynch said. "At some point we told them they had to choose a sport.

"All four of them chose hockey. It thrilled their father, because he’s from Peterborough (Ontario) that hockey mecca, and played for a long time. He was waiting for this, it was part of their heritage.

"Sandy is sports, sports, sports, and no matter what the boys wanted to do, he found a way to get it into his schedule."

So Joan Lynch came up with a plan to provide balance. "Piano lessons," she said. "That was the deal. All four of them had to take piano for 10 years, right through high school."

Doug Lynch has maintained a decent skill level on the keyboards, and is known to wander into a lounge and deliver an occasional performance.

"He’s the best on the piano," Jason Lynch said. "Those guys quit going to lessons, and I wasn’t going to be the only one going, so I quit too. So I’m, well, kind of below the pack on the piano skills."

Sandy Lynch knew what raising four boys would mean to his household. When he built the family’s house, he left the basement unfinished, covering the walls with plywood and the floor with linoleum.

Then he turned his sons loose.

"There was nothing to break down there, although we tried," Doug Lynch said. "We played roller hockey, lacrosse, knocked each other around. I was pretty good in goal, actually. But those guys are my best friends in the world."

Their favorite uniform number was 9. That number and the captain’s “C” was worn by a Lynch for 10 years on their youth team, passed down from one brother to the next.

But another thing they have in common is education.

All of the Lynch boys are “A” students. Some took pre-calculus classes in high school. Their parents researched U.S. universities — the kids qualified to go to Gonzaga — but settled on a path through the Western Hockey League, because players earn a one year’s academic scholarship to a Canadian university for each year they play in the WHL.

"School has always been No. 1, still is, no matter what level they’ve played at," Joan Lynch said. "They are all honor students."

Doug Lynch is working toward a degree in business finance, and says he likes real estate. The Blues have a prospect who not only might be a tough, two-way defenseman in St. Louis in the future, but has a sharp mind for mathematics and is the Rivermen player union rep and a member of the Professional Hockey Player’s Association executive committee.

"We were never focused on raising good hockey players," Joan Lynch said. "Our goal was to raise good people. I think we’ve done that."

Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen for the Peoria Journal Star