Fathers coaching sons
by Andrew Podnieks|25 MAY 2022
Danish coach Heinz Ehlers stands behind is son, Nikolaj (#24).
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Not every father can pull a Gordie Howe and actually play in the NHL with his sons. But perhaps the next best thing is for a father to coach his son, and with the French, Danish, and Kazakh teams we have double the pleasure this year because Philippe Bozon is behind the bench and two of his players are sons Tim and Kevin. And the same goes for Heinz Ehlers and son Nikolaj. And Yuri and Nikita Mikhailis in Kazakhstan as well. It’s a rare and special situation that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Philippe Bozon was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2008 after an outstanding international career that included eight World Championship appearances and four trips to the Olympics. He played 60 games in those two events, recording 49 points, and even today is considered perhaps the greatest French player of all time. So it’s no surprise he would be interested in coaching the national team, which he did for the first time in 2019. And on the bench were his sons. 

Tim Bozon was born in St. Louis in 1994 while his dad was playing in the NHL with the Blues. Philippe was the first French-trained player to make it to the big league, and Tim eventually was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. His career was slowed by a serious illness, but he made a full recovery and played in the WHL and minor pro in the U.S. before establishing himself in Switzerland. He played in his first World Championship in 2013, and again three years later, and then he made the team again in 2019 under the encouraging eye of his dad. 

Kevin, meanwhile, a year younger, was born in France, and as a teen he moved to Switzerland to pursue a career on ice. He hasn’t left yet. He has played with several teams over the years, most recently with Winterthur. This year he is making his national team debut, skating with his brother and guided by his father.

“I try to think of my father as just another coach here, and I think it’s the same for him – I’m just another player,” Kevin said. “I think it’s fair for the other players on the team for it to be like that. He was also my coach in the junior league, so he also has a lot of experience. We talk a lot about hockey at home, but when we are here, he’s just my coach. It helps me, too, to have him and my brother on the team. We talk a lot; we stay in the same room in the hotel, so we’re together a lot. I’m really happy.”
French head coach Philippe Bozon with his two sons Tim (#94) and Kevin (#95) at the bench.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Up until this year, the World Championship paths of Heinz Ehlers and his son, Nikolaj, had yet to cross. Nikolaj played at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds, but his father didn’t start coaching until 2019 and was behind the bench again in 2021. But this year the stars have aligned and son is skating under the auspices of dad. 

Nikolaj has a slightly different take on the relationship and what it means: “It's not just playing for my dad,” he explains. “It's playing for the Danish national team. It's something that you're always proud of, competing at the World Championships for your home country. So it's very exciting and special.”

Another father-son combination can be found in Kazakhstan, where Yuri Mikhailis has been head coach since last year. While he is behind the bench, his 26-year-old son, Nikita, has been on the bench in front of him, both last year and this.

Perhaps the most famous father-son combo at the World Championship was Kent Forsberg and his son, Peter. Kent coached Tre Kronor for three consecutive years, 1996-98, and it was the last of those that Peter was able to play under his dad’s coaching. Peter had a great year with the Colorado Avalanche, scoring 91 points in 72 games, but the Avs lost their first-round playoff series to Edmonton in seven games. Peter got on a plane and flew to Switzerland in time for the Qualifying Round. He then tore the tournament apart, scoring 11 points in 7 games, being named IIHF Directorate Best Forward, and leading the team to a gold medal. One and done, but what a one to remember!

Herbert Pock played for many years with the Austrian national team, but at the top level he played in three Olympics (1976, 1984, 1988) but never in the A Pool of the World Championship. Nevertheless, he went on to coach Austria at the WM in the three-year period 2003-05. Herbert’s son, Thomas, took after his dad, and then some. Born in Austria, Thomas had high ambitions and as a teen left to play college hockey in the U.S. with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Although never drafted, he was signed by the Rangers and played 118 NHL games with the Blueshirts and later rivals New York Islanders. Thomas also played five World Championships, including all three when his dad was a coach. The team finished 10th, 11th, and 16th, but it was a special time for the two.

The name Kopitar is the stuff of legend in Slovenia, a name revered in hockey circles in that smaller hockey community. Father Matjaz was well known as a national team player during the Yugoslav era, but his son Anze is even more iconic. Matjaz had an excellent career with club team Jesenice and later coached the national team between 2011 and 2015, including three World Championships at the top level and the 2014 Olympics.

Anze was born in 1987 and moved to Sweden to develop, and from there his career took off with Los Angeles in the NHL. To say he is the greatest player in Slovenia’s history is an understatement. Gasper, five years younger than Anze, also played in Sweden and then for several seasons in the ECHL. The boys never played internationally together but Gasper played under his dad at the 2013 Worlds and Anze two years later. Anze and Matjaz also hooked up at the 2014 Olympics.

As the name Kopitar is to Slovenia, so is Hossa to Slovakia. Frantisek Hossa played for Dukla Trencin in the former Czechoslovakia, but he sired two hockey thoroughbreds in Marcel and Marian. Both brothers played in the NHL, Marian having a Hall of Fame-quality career that lasted 1,309 regular-season games over 19 seasons and included three Stanley Cup wins with Chicago in 2010, 2013, and 2015. Marcel played six years in the NHL, but both brothers had extensive international careers with Slovakia. Marian played at the 2004 Worlds under his dad, and both brothers played under Frantisek at the 2005 and 2006 Worlds as well as the Turin Olympics in ’06.