Fr. Paul Woodcroft (left) Frank and Todd Woodcroft (Courtesy of the Woodcroft family). Craig Woodcroft (right) will be at the Olympics this month as a member of the men’s team coaching staff (Photo from Wikimedia Commons).

The Woodcroft Family: Passing the puck from the Flying Fathers to the NHL to the Olympics

By  Tim Wharnsby, A Catholic Register Special
  • February 5, 2018
The backyard rink at the Woodcroft home on Cheritan Ave. in north Toronto was one busy locale back in the day.

The patriarch, Vic Woodcroft, carefully cared for the ice every winter so his four hockey-playing sons — Frank, Bud, Paul and Gord — had the perfect place to pursue their passion.

That passion saw some life-changing turns through the years — including two vocations to the priesthood — as the backyard rink became a launchpad to NHL and other arenas around the world, all the way to this month’s Olympics in Pyeongchang, North Korea.

Little did Vic know as he flooded the ice on cold winter nights that two of his children, Bud and Paul, would become priests. They would suit up for the Flying Fathers, a group of Roman Catholic hockey playing priests led by Fr. Les Costello, who, before he was ordained in 1957, won a Stanley Cup with the 1947-48 Toronto Maple Leafs.

For more than 45 years, beginning in 1963, the Flying Fathers toured North America playing exhibition games to raise money for various charities.

The family’s hockey bloodline continued to the next generation. Frank, who occasionally played goal as a layman for the Flying Fathers, had three boys who loved hockey just as much as their dad and uncles. After their playing careers concluded, all three became coaches.

Jay Woodcroft, the youngest at 41, is an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers. He has a Stanley Cup ring as part of the coaching staff of the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings and a world championship gold medal as an assistant coach with Canada in 2015.


woodcroft family stanyley cup hockeyTodd (left) and Jay with their uncle Fr. Paul Woodcroft with the Stanley Cup. (Courtesy of the Woodcroft family). 

Todd Jay Woodcroft hockeyBrothers Todd Woodcroft (left), assistant coach of the Winnipeg Jets and Jay Woodcroft (right), assistant coach of the Edmonton Oilers at the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic. (Photo courtesy of NHL.com)

Todd Woodcroft, 45, has two world championship gold medals, first as an assistant coach with Canada in 2004 and then with Sweden last year. He also has a Stanley Cup as part of the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings scouting staff and is in his second year as an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets.


craig woodcroft hockey cardAnd then there’s the oldest brother, Craig, who will be at the Olympics this month as a member of the men’s team coaching staff. He was the most accomplished of the three brothers as a player. A Chicago Blackhawks seventh-round draft pick in 1988 out of Colgate University, he had four stints with the Canadian national team. He almost played in the 1994 Winter Olympics, but was one of the final players cut. Though he never played in the NHL, he spent 13 years in pro leagues in North America and Europe.

“We’re really proud of them all,” said 78-year-old Fr. Paul Woodcroft, an accomplished coach himself. He helped coach the Oshawa Catholic High School boys hockey team to three consecutive trips to the provincial championships in the early 1970s. “I guess you could say our family is into hockey. But it’s been incredible to see their success.”

Paul, a defenceman, and Bud, a centre, are retired from the priesthood. They both kept their hockey skills sharp while at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. When not playing for the Flying Fathers, there were games at Ted Reeve Arena and when the weather turned cold enough, the future priests built an outdoor rink at St. Augustine’s.

Paul still follows the game closely. Last month he and his brother Frank went to Buffalo to watch the Jets play the Sabres. They went to the morning skate and then had lunch with Frank’s son, Todd.

All the Woodcrofts will be watching Craig and the Canadian Olympic team, even if that means rising in the middle of the night to watch the games from the other side of the planet.

“My advice to Craig would be to take everything in, soak in every moment and relationship,” Todd said. “The number of good people you meet in these types of tournaments is astounding.

“I know from talking with him how lucky he feels to have been chosen to represent the logo he once was fortunate enough to wear.”

Craig, 48, enjoyed coaching stints with the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues before he returned to Europe to help former Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins head coach Dave Lewis run the Belarus national team in the past three world championships.

In a twist of fate, all three Woodcroft brothers coached at the 2015 world championship. Jay won gold as a member of Canada’s staff, while Craig and Todd advanced to the quarter-finals with Belarus and Switzerland, respectively.

“The game is so ingrained in all of us,” said Craig, who now coaches Geneve-Servette in the Swiss league. “We’ve been in hockey since we were all toddlers. So the passion for the game has always been there for each of us. The coaching side of the sport has been built up over the course of many, many years, dating back to when we were all teenagers, working summer jobs at hockey schools in Toronto.

“We loved connecting with people, teaching them about something we all loved, and that was playing the game. Over time, our teaching skills, communication skills and leadership skills were honed, and when opportunities arose for each of us to coach in pro hockey, in whatever capacity, we were ready.”

As a result of his work with the Belarus national team, Craig landed the head coach position with Dinamo Minsk in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. He took a low-budget, basement-dwelling team to the top third in the standings last season. Now he hopes to win an Olympic medal with Canada and add it to the Woodcroft trophy case. 


Team Canada 2018 CoachCraig Woodcroft, far right, will support head coach Willie Deshardins, as Team Canada's assistant coach for the Men's hockey team. (Photo courtesy of Hockey Canada)

Frank will be going to Pyeongchang to cheer on his son.

“I’ve been there for most of the significant times for my sons,” Frank said. “I was there for Jay and the Red Wings win and Todd and the Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup. I was there at the 2015 world championship.

“I’m extremely proud of my sons. They understood the roots they came from. They came from nothing. They were never the best player on their teams and never the worst.

Because of that they had a strong work ethic to become the best. They worked hard on their skill development as players and as coaches.”

And Frank’s Olympic prediction?

“Canada is good enough to win gold, but I’d say they’ll take the silver, bronze at worst. The one thing you can say about Canadians, they have the will to win.”

(Wharnsby is a writer in Toronto, contributing twice weekly to cbc.ca/sports.)

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