ECHL.com Note – Dan Vandermeer has played in the ECHL for Richmond (1998-2003), Long Beach (2003-04) and Idaho (2003-05); Joe Vandermeer played in the ECHL with Richmond (1999-2002), Augusta (2001-02), Lexington (2002-03); and Pete Vandermeer played in the ECHL with Columbus (1996-98), Richmond (1999-2000) and Trenton (2001-02).
By Chadd Cripe
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – Maureen Vandermeer knows her boys say it, and strangers assume it.
“They think I’m crazy,” she says, “but whatever … “
Maureen is the mother of six hockey-playing boys from Caroline, Alberta — including Idaho Steelheads captain Dan Vandermeer.
Four play hockey professionally and the other two are junior players with promising careers.
The boys, ages 18 to 29, grew up smacking each other around, breaking windows during hockey games in the house, sneaking out to skate past midnight on the family’s homemade rink and generally causing mayhem.
They also worked most weekday afternoons with their father, Bob, in the family sawmill and spent so much time helping Maureen around the house that she says all six are capable cooks. The boys don’t have any sisters.
“It was a lot of fun, that’s for darn sure,” Pete, the oldest boy, said. “You always had somebody to play games with or get into all kinds of trouble with. … It was a pretty darn neat way to grow up.”
Their upbringing also formed their hockey styles. Pete (29), Joe (28), Dan (27), Jim (25), Bill (20) and Ted (18) are known for their toughness, work ethic and leadership.
They’re accustomed to wearing the captain’s “C” and the assistant captain’s “A,” Pete said. He’s an assistant captain with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League this season.
Dan, a defenseman, joined Idaho late last season in a trade with Long Beach. He fit in immediately and contributed offensively during the Steelheads’ run to the Kelly Cup championship. Coach John Olver named him captain this season.
“(The Vandermeers) all have that common trait of being very gritty, very hard-nosed, very honest players,” said Steelheads defenseman Darrell Hay, who has played against the three oldest Vandermeers. “They’re not out there looking to cause trouble, but they’re very committed to their team and they stand up for their teammates.”
The same was true as boys.
Sure, they fought. But they also defended each other — from insiders and outsiders. Bob had a rule against picking on those smaller than you.
“I think I got more licks than any of the rest of ’em because I was always a little lippy,” Dan said. “I’d get beat up by the older brothers, and because I got beat up I’d have to beat up on somebody so I’d beat the snot out of the little brothers, and then because I did that I got beat up again by the older brothers.
“It was a vicious circle.”
They fought because they were so competitive. Hockey games didn’t end until someone was “crying or bleeding or both,” Dan said.
But they also were close friends. Dan was the best man at 28-year-old Joe’s wedding, and he talks to each of his brothers a couple times a month during hockey season.
“They always stuck up for each other,” Maureen said. “God help anyone who touched any of them.”The boys inherited their love of hockey from their father, who took them to his senior men’s league games. Pete started playing when he was 4, and the next winter Joe, 3, and Dan, 2, started their careers.
Dan wasn’t just skating at that age — he was playing.
“He’s a natural,” Bob said. “He looked funnier than hell.”
Hockey dominated the family’s weekends. The Vandermeers would carpool with other families to get the boys to various locations around western Canada, and Bob and Maureen often would go in different directions.
During the week, the boys went straight from school to the sawmill. They worked into the early evening.Where did they squeeze in hockey?
“Everywhere in between,” Dan said.
In fact, work at the sawmill and fun on the rink were linked in the Vandermeer household.
“The deal was, if we were going to enable them to go on all their sports activities, then they had to help us, because the money had to come from someplace,” Bob said.
The boys have a deal of their own in regards to the sawmill, where they still help out in the summers.
“I’m sure Dad thinks it’s going to be real funny to leave us his lumber mill in his will,” Dan said, “… but we’re just going to have a big wiener roast and a big party and burn the thing down and never have to see that thing again.”
Still, Pete says, the sawmill taught the boys how to work.
And it cranked out what he calls three “clones” of Bob — Pete, Dan and Ted.
Those three picked on the others, Dan said, “because they were good boys.”
“I don’t think Mom had anything to do with us,” Pete said of himself, Dan and Ted. “I think he spit on the ground and we came out of the dirt.”
And poor Maureen got to raise them.
“She’s a damn saint,” Pete said, “but she is crazy, too.”