Getzlaf brothers carve out identities in separate sports

Getzlaf brothers carve out identities in separate sports

Published Jan. 18, 2012 11:55 a.m. ET

While driving around the periphery of Regina, Saskatchewan's industrial area to the west of downtown, during football season, there's one thing that's clear: this is on the other end of the spectrum from a sun-belt, manicured suburban upbringing that often serves as a breeding ground for young athletes.

Roughly 500 miles northwest of Fargo, N.D. and situated on a flat plain where the low Wednesday night is supposed to dip down to 21 degrees below zero, those looking for a career in professional sports generally have two options: play hockey or become a referee.

The city of 179,246 inhabitants has produced one athlete in major league professional sports other than hockey — Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan — and that number isn't expected to rise soon.

But despite the prohibitive winters and lack of elite competition in sports that aren't played on a sheet of ice, brothers Chris and Ryan Getzlaf have competed on a wide sports stage, both excelling in football, baseball and volleyball in addition to hockey. Chris, two years Ryan's senior and a late developer in his football career, recently recorded his first career 1,000-yard receiving season as a slotback for the hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders. Ryan captains the Anaheim Ducks, and at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, has a three-inch size advantage.

"He was very skilled in pretty much whatever he played," Chris Getzlaf said about his younger brother. "He was a good football player in the few years he played. He was an extremely good baseball player and could have played baseball, had he stuck to that."

As a catcher, Ryan gained a reputation as having a live arm behind home plate, and with his size, he had the option to take his talents to a higher level than could be afforded on the Canadian prairie. Of the 16 Canadians who began the 2011 season on a major league roster, only one — Matt Stairs, of New Brunswick — was not from British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec.

"Baseball and hockey were kind of my go-tos that I really liked," Ryan Getzlaf said. "Baseball taught me a lot of things about patience and stuff like that. Being a catcher, you got to be in on every play, so it was kind of exciting for me, and you get to control a lot. . . but I think hockey was kind of always where my direct passion was, and where I wanted to be in the future."

It's not a mild statement when someone who once fought Joe Thornton in the opening moments of a playoff game and also stepped toe to toe with Ian Laperriere as a 22-year-old argues that the hardest action in sports is hitting a baseball.

"Directly, from a standpoint of one-on-one, something you have to do, the numbers don't lie. A good average is hitting three out of ten balls," Getzlaf said. "That's not good enough in most sports. I never played at any level where guys were throwing a hundred miles an hour, either, so I don't know directly what that feels like, but I'm sure it's intimidating standing in there. And that's not even the half. Throwing hard has nothing to do with the way that guys miss the ball. It's all the indecision, and you have to make that decision so quick."

Hockey was always an option for Chris Getzlaf — he occasionally plays recreationally during the CFL offseason — but the 2011 season proved to be a major breakthrough in the career of the now 29 year old despite the backdrop of a league-worst 5-13 season.  Getzlaf hit both the 10-touchdown and 1,000-yards milestones and earned a Player of the Week award after a 123-yard performance against Toronto on Aug. 18.

But the 13 losses were uncharacteristic of a team that won the 2007 Grey Cup and hadn't missed the playoffs since 2001. Surrounded by "Rider Nation," in which the pageantry, tailgating and fan interest is comparable to that of a major college football program, there will be pressure on Chris Getzlaf to maintain his production and for the team to finish with closer to double the amount of wins produced in 2011.

"It's like the Green Bay Packers of the CFL," Chris Getzlaf said about the team's support, which often bleeds into neighboring provinces. It's not uncharacteristic to see green-and-white flags affixed to cars in Alberta and points west.

"No matter where we go, Calgary, Edmonton, BC, you name it, there are always Rider fans in the stands. Whenever we play in Calgary and Edmonton, it's almost half and half for the most part. The following in Calgary is amazing, but inside of Saskatchewan it's pretty special."

Both Mosaic Stadium, where the Riders play, and the nearby Brandt Centre, home of the WHL's Regina Pats, sold their naming rights to agricultural corporations heavily intertwined with the regional economy. Once out of Regina, there's plenty of farmland and open space in all directions, and the stocks of wheat on the Roughriders' helmets and logos reinforce that.

Because of the early CFL starting date — last year's season opener was July 3 — Ryan has been on hand to cheer on his brother, taking in three home games before relocating to Anaheim to prepare for the season. Through his satellite package, he caught all Riders games except for one this season. 

"My wife and I, we try to make it back for the home opener every year. It's been the last three years," Getzlaf said. "Actually, [Ducks defenseman Sheldon] Brookbank and his wife come with us, too. It's kind of a tradition we've started."

"Brookbank, he and his family have been going. They've had season tickets, and they live in Saskatoon or Lanigan, so they drive up for every game. It's a great sporting event."

Though he's off from the point-per-game pace he maintained for the previous four seasons, Ryan Getzlaf is part of a resurgent Anaheim team that's trying to become relevant in the playoff picture in the second half of the season after only 10 wins at the beginning of 2012. The Ducks confidence is soaring as the team approaches full health for the first time since early October and boasts offensive depth beyond its top two lines. This environment has allowed Getzlaf to see more time alongside explosive linemates Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.

"I think that our group has bought into the fact that we need to keep pucks out of our net to win," Getzlaf said. "We've been keeping teams' shots way down, and goaltending has been great. And that leads to the offense. That changes everything."

"We were here for the first three months of the season or whatever it was, and it's been not fun. So it's time for us to have a little fun."