University of Oregon club hockey players Sam and Noah Rosenberg didn’t learn to read the way most kids do. Instead of scanning over kid’s books with easy to understand syntax, the two taught themselves written word the only way they knew how: through hockey.
Their mother, Kim Rosenberg, remembers how they would pour over the box scores of games from the previous night, identifying names and words they recognized from television broadcasts.
Chuckling to herself, Kim said “I remember they learned how to say Jaromir Jager [pronounced YAH-oh-meer YAH-gur].
“Hockey for them is like breathing,” Kim said. “It’s so important to their lives that they are playing.”
The two brothers are more than your average hockey enthusiasts. For them, the sport takes root in their identity; an identity that wouldn’t have been possible without their father, David Rosenberg.
The brothers remember learning the game from their dad when they were 2, taking turns shooting at him in front of a makeshift goal in their basement.
David, an avid hockey fan and a skilled amateur player, instilled in them a love for the game that has so far defined their lives. And when David was at work, Kim would fill in.
It’s hard for her to remember a time when the sport wasn’t a part of their lives.
“Hockey is basically religion for us,” Sam said about him and his brother.
Looking around their family house in Portland, it wouldn’t take long to come to the same conclusion by the hundreds of hockey books that line the shelves or the numerous photos of Sam and Noah in their uniforms throughout the years.
The brothers are a classic example of hockey fanatics. Throughout their lives, they’ve collected jerseys, pins, books and magazines about the game.
“Anything hockey, they collected it,” Kim said.
Hockey took up almost every aspect of their early lives. They watched the 2004 sports docudrama Miracle hundreds of times and memorized every line of it.
Hockey was all they talked about at the dinner table too, which drove their sister, Estee Rosenberg, a little crazy.
“[I] could never get a word in edgewise,” she said.
As the brothers grew, they began playing organized hockey, and soon joined more competitive traveling club teams. Sam joined a traveling club team when he was 10, and Noah did the same when he was 8.
They would even plan family vacations around their hockey schedule. The brothers recall driving all over the West Coast — usually with their dad at the wheel — for tournaments, sometimes even north of the border into Canada.
Both were good at the sport, although not quite good enough to get the attention of any Division I programs.
In the 100 years since the foundation of the NHL, only six native Oregonians have played in the league; the most recent being Corvallis-native Jordan Lavallee-Smotherman, who played two games for the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2008-2009 season, according to quanthockey.com.
For an Oregonian to play hockey professionally, the route is more difficult than most.
“You have to basically commit when you’re 12 years old and that’s what you want to do,” Sam said.
Sam and Noah did get offers from several colleges with Division II club teams — the same division the Oregon team is in — but nothing that really piqued their interests. The brothers chose UO because it was close to home, and family was a top priority.
By the time Sam, the senior brother, enrolled at Oregon in fall 2012, their father had already undergone a kidney transplant and was in the midst of a fight for his life with thyroid cancer.
“[It was more important for us to] stay at home with family and finish our high school where we were at in Portland rather than pursue a hockey career,” Sam said of the decision to stay close to home.
Even when he was sick and in a deteriorating condition, David still attended his sons’ games when they played in Portland.
“He would save all his energy to watch the game and yell ‘Skate Sam! Skate Sam!” Kim recalled.
And when he couldn’t make it to the games because of his condition, he would livestream their games whenever possible.
David passed away in November 2014, but the loss didn’t come as a huge shock to the family. For years, David defied the prognosis of doctors who originally gave him only a few years to live, stemming from his original diagnosis in the mid-90s.
“Hockey gave him something to look forward to,” Kim said of her late husband.
The same could be said for Noah, now a sophomore, who spent his entire freshman year studying in Israel. When he returned to the states after his year abroad, it had been a few years since he had last played the sport he loved.
He was anxious to join Sam, now a senior, on the UO club team for one last season together.
“It’s really something that we shouldn’t take for granted,” Noah said of playing with his brother. “But we’ve played together our whole lives so it just seems normal. But I know that it’s a really special thing that not a lot of people can do.”
Noah is one of three goalies — the position his father played — on the team.
Kim thinks that the two still play with their dad in mind. She likes to think that they can hear him, still yelling from the stands for them to skate faster.
“They know what a priority hockey was for him in terms of him having really, amazing quality time with them,” Kim said of her sons. “He was an incredible, incredible man and they knew how much he cared about them and they have that.”
While Estee, their sister, found their hockey obsession annoying when the siblings were growing up, she now realizes that it benefitted them.
“It was very beautiful to be so passionate about something,” Estee said about her brothers.
She said that it helped them understand others with passions of their own.
Kim is also thankful for the bond that they’ve found in hockey.
“What hockey taught them was how to lose and how to have really good sportsmanship,” she said. “They learned how to persevere and how to have a lot of resilience and I really feel grateful that hockey taught them that.”
The Rosenberg brothers’ connection to the game is stronger than most, mainly because of the importance of the person who had introduced them to the game so many years ago.
Now, less than three years since his passing, it is evident that David has given his sons’ lives meaning through the sport; a meaning that will continue to impact them long after they have hung up their skates.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris