The Topping brothers don’t have a side bet, at least not one they were willing to reveal.
“Nothing really, just bragging rights at home. Nothing more than that,” laughed the elder Jordan, a 20-year-old left-winger for the Tri-City Americans, who got the upper hand in Thursday’s series opener, setting up Michael Rasmussen’s third-period power-play goal to make it 4-0 in an eventual 5-0 victory over 18-year-old Kyle and the Kelowna Rockets.
“Maybe some of our friends (have bets) . . . but me and him don’t have anything personal,” added Kyle, who was in Kelowna’s starting lineup opposite Jordan, both on the ice for the anthems as their lines went head-to-head in the early stages with Kyle centering Kole Lind and Nolan Foote, while Jordan flanked Kyle Olson and Nolan Yaremko at even strength.
The Topping brothers don’t need any extra motivation for this first-round WHL playoff series, knowing what’s at stake for their teams and their individual careers.
For Jordan, it’s his over-age season and his final playoff run with the Americans. His junior career will come to an end this spring and he’s yet to sign a professional contract for next season as an undrafted free agent, so that audition is ongoing.
“This being my last year, it’s exciting for me and I’ll be trying to make the most of it,” said Jordan, who produced 80 points in playing all 72 games during his fourth season in the WHL, racking up 38 goals and 42 assists for career highs across the board.
For Kyle, it’s his NHL draft year and he’s looking to improve his stock with a strong post-season performance for the Rockets. Central Scouting had him ranked 64th among North American skaters on their mid-term list from January, projected to be a mid-round pick in June.
These games will be heavily scouted, so both Toppings have incentive to shine — and to focus on the task at hand, largely ignoring this storyline.
“Leading up to it, we were kind of expecting to play each other,” said Kyle, who enjoyed a near point-per-game sophomore campaign, netting 65 points in 66 games, with 22 goals and 43 assists. “It was pretty close in the standings, but when we did find out it was for sure, we kind of talked a little bit. But once the puck drops (for Game 1), it starts to be business and I’m sure we won’t talk to each other maybe until the end of the series.
“I wish him the best and I hope he does well, but I hope we come out on top,” added Kyle. “We want to win and we’re going to do everything we can to win.”
Jordan shared those sentiments in downplaying any semblance of a sibling rivalry.
“I don’t want to put that on us . . . at the end of the day, you want success for your siblings, but obviously I want to win this series, so I’m going to be going as hard as I can,” said Jordan. “You just have to treat it like another game. Yeah, it’s really special to play against him, but at the same time, it’s playoff hockey, so if I’m playing against him, I’ll be playing hard.”
The Topping brothers weren’t taking it easy on each other in Thursday’s opener. Nor were Cal Foote and Jake Bean, defence partners for Canada at the World Juniors; Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki, two of the Calgary Flames' top prospects; or Carsen Twarynski and Bean, former teammates with the Calgary Hitmen turned foes with a few run-ins during Game 1.
All intriguing matchups — the games within the games — but none of them share the same parents like the Topping brothers.
“It’s kind of difficult for them, but they’re just happy to see us both in the league and doing well,” Jordan said of their father Derek and mother Kim. “It’s tough for them because they want to see us both go as far as we can and not have to knock the other one out. It would be a better-case scenario if we were playing in the conference final.”
As for the first round, perhaps the ideal scenario has this series going the distance with one of the Topping brothers scoring the overtime winner in Game 7?
“Yeah, if it’s Jordan,” he joked.
All kidding aside, do the parents now cheer for Kyle in tonight's Game 2? Puck-drop is 7:05 p.m. at Prospera Place.
“My mom has both of our jerseys and usually she wears mine when we’re in Kelowna and his when we’re in Tri-City,” said Kyle. “But, seriously, I’m not sure who our parents want to win because the loser goes home early.”
Presumably they are torn, experiencing a variety of emotions in watching their only children battle it out on the ice.
At least Derek and Kim don’t have to put on any extra miles or debate which city they'll be travelling to in prioritizing one son's series over the other.
“It’s obviously kind of weird to be playing him in this kind of scenario, but it’s cool to have a chance to play against him, so we’ll just try to make the most of it,” said Jordan. “It’s exciting for them and for the whole family.”
The Topping brothers have never played together — never been on the same team growing up — but they aren't strangers to facing off against each other. The Rockets and Americans played four times in the regular season, splitting that series with every game decided by a goal. Each team won twice, including once in overtime.
“Every time we play each other, it’s a great experience and lots of fun with family and friends that come down to watch,” said Kyle. “I’m expecting nothing less in this series.”
Naturally, there is a mutual respect and admiration between the brothers.
“Definitely, I looked up to him ever since I was little, and kind of followed in his footsteps and tried to be like him,” Kyle said of Jordan. “Just with him being two years older and us both playing hockey, he’s definitely somebody I look up to and I really appreciate everything he’s done for me.”
Jordan took full credit when asked if he taught Kyle everything he knows, chuckling his way through that answer.
The mentor and role model, Jordan is thrilled to see Kyle's career taking off, with his name now on the draft radar.
“It’s been really fun to watch what he’s been able to do in the league and I love seeing him have the success that he has,” said Jordan. “He’s done a tremendous job of building his confidence up a lot. I’m hoping that his name gets called (in the NHL draft).”
Both forwards, the Topping brothers play a similar style. Both were also late-bloomers who had to work their way up to the WHL, with Jordan an eighth-round pick (175th overall) in the 2012 bantam draft for Tri-City, while Kelowna stole Kyle even later in 2014, at 220th overall in the 11th round.
“Similarities, for sure, but there’s definitely parts of our game that are a little bit different,” said Kyle. “He does some stuff really well and I do other stuff really well. He’s a really good skater, we both have good shots, and I feel like I have a little bit better hockey sense. But definitely comparable players and I try to be like him.”
Told of the hockey-sense comment, Jordan didn't take that bait and was subtle in his rebuttal.
“We’re a little bit different. He’s a little bit smaller than me, but he does a lot of little things really well,” said Jordan, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds to Kyle’s 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds.
About that side bet, maybe the loser of this series can mow the lawn all summer when the Topping brothers get home to Salt Spring Island?
“That might be a good idea, something like that,” said Jordan.
As the older brother, he must already make Kyle do all the chores, right?
“I usually get stuck with them, surprisingly,” claimed Jordan.
Their dad, Derek, will get the final say on that matter.
“We’ll see, it should be interesting,” said Kyle. “We’ll both be back there for the summer, it’s a really nice place to relax and kind of get away from hockey for a bit.”
Nobody wants to go home in late March or early April. Both these teams have the potential to play into May, both considered contenders from the outset of this season.
“We didn’t get the results in the regular season that we wanted to, but we had a lot of injuries and things that were dealt to us,” Jordan said of the Americans, who are finally healthy and firing on all cylinders. “We’re just playing as hard as we can now and I think we have a great team.
“We have a lot of expectations for the playoffs,” he added.
On paper, looking at the two rosters top to bottom, this could have easily been the Western Conference final. A third-round clash.
“Both teams are really well put together and obviously Kelowna has had a great history of playoff runs, but we’re looking to make our own history here,” said Jordan. “We’re confident that we can do something like that.”
Kyle agreed, prior to Thursday's opener, that Tri-City was a dangerous opponent and that the Americans couldn't be taken lightly. He also envisioned a barnburner of a series.
“I really think it’s going to be a good series,” said Kyle, just as Jordan strutted into the visitor’s dressing room alongside his Tri-City teammates. “I watch them a lot more than other teams, with Jordan there, and they’re a good team — really skilled, and they’ve got a few guys that can definitely put the puck in the net.
“It should be a great series for both teams and for the fans, and I’m looking forward to it.”