It’s been wonderful for Kris and his wife Catherine to see 7-year-old Alex’s personality blossom. And not only is Alex a great kid – he’s also a great big brother to his baby sister, Victoria, who will turn 2 on July 5.
“He takes care of her,” Letang said. “He always watches her. We’re pretty lucky to have him be around his sister the way he is.”
That sibling dynamic is something that Letang never got to experience as an only child, and was one of the reasons he always wanted to start a family of his own.
“I always wanted to have brothers, and I never had the chance,” he said. “So, I always wanted to have kids and see the whole dynamic of a bunch of people around.”
Kristopher Joseph Pierre Irwin Letang was born on April 24, 1987 in Montreal to Claude Fouquet and Christiane Letang.
“When you’re French-Canadian and Catholic-born, men get the middle name of Joseph while women get the middle name of Mary,” Letang explained. “Then Pierre is my grandfather, and Irwin is my godfather.”
Letang lived in the city until he was 4 years old, when he moved to the suburb of Sainte-Julie, where he spent the rest of his childhood.
“I would compare it to Wexford,” Letang said. “You’re not in the city, you’re like 15 minutes outside the city. It’s pretty much just houses, kids, schools.”
Claude was a salesman who sold 18-wheeler semi-trucks. Christiane worked in different businesses while Kris was growing up before eventually forming a company that distributed pet products she sold a few years ago.
Physically, Letang feels like he doesn’t really resemble either of his parents – though he did inherit Claude’s long hair. Personality-wise, he takes more after Christiane.
“I feel like my wife wants to say that I have the same character as my mom,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a mix, but I think people would say I lean more on my mom’s side.”
As a kid, Letang says that he was a trouble-maker.
“I was really, really, really active. Couldn’t be stopped. Close to being hyperactive,” he said. “I couldn’t stop moving, couldn’t stop doing things. I was a kid that liked to chirp bigger kids just for the sake of it. I got into fights all the time. I got beat up more than I won, but I just thought it was funny.”
And it’s funny because even though Victoria is still so little, Kris can already see that his daughter is starting to take after him.
“I would say if I looked right now at my daughter and my son, my daughter looks like what I was doing,” he said. “No fear of anything, doesn’t think anything through.”
Meanwhile, Alex is the opposite.
“He is a kid that is really thinking,” Letang said. “He’s a smart kid. He’s really intellectual.”
Like his father, who is involved in a competitive game of 13-Up with Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Tanev on every Penguins plane ride, Alex likes playing cards.
“At his age, he knows how to play chess and backgammon,” Letang said. “He plays anything. You show him something, he’s going to get interested in it and he’s going to focus to learn it and get better.”
Alex is also into all sorts of activities. In addition to hockey, Alex also likes rollerblading, biking, soccer, basketball, football and mini golf. He also loves to swim, which is definitely something he did not inherit from his dad.
“I’m a terrible swimmer,” Letang said before adding with a laugh, “I swim like a little dog. I mean, I can swim the proper way, but I get really tired quick. This summer we were in Greece and I was like okay, I’m going for that rock. So, I start going, and I’m like, there’s no way I can come back.”
While Letang also played soccer when he was young, for him, it was really all about hockey. He fell in love with the sport after taking the ice for the first time at the age of 3, and immediately showed glimpses of the skating ability that he’s become known for.
“There’s no background of any athlete in my family,” he said. “No brother, no sister. So basically my parents put me out there and just let me go, and I just loved it. I went in hockey a year earlier because I was able to skate.”
Letang’s first-ever team in Novice A was called the Volcans, translated to Volcanoes in English.
“Our team was the old LA Kings colors, like the black, silver and white,” he said. “Then I remember I was wearing red Easton gloves. They didn’t match at all.”
As someone who now loves fashion and enjoys shopping and collecting watches, Letang had to laugh.
“I did not have a good style back then, for sure,” he said.
Despite growing up just outside of the city, Letang was never a die-hard Canadiens fan. He did go to a few games as a kid, but not a lot, since tickets are expensive and he is not from a wealthy family.
“I was more so a kid that just wanted to go watch the pros,” he said.
Letang remembers getting the chance to see Mario Lemieux when he came to town in the early 90s. And while he loved his fellow French-Canadian, the Russian Rocket was actually Letang’s idol growing up.
“My favorite player growing up was Pavel Bure,” Letang said. “He was exciting to watch. I remember my dad brought me a Bure jersey from Florida when he went there for work.”
In Montreal, elementary school consists of kindergarten through sixth grade. From there, the secondary school program is divided into two cycles. Cycle One covers seventh and eighth grade, while Cycle Two covers ninth, tenth and eleventh grade.
Because Letang loved hockey so much, when it was time to start Cycle One, the decision was made for him to attend a school called Sport and Study so that he could spend more time on the ice.
“Basically, half of the day you’re on the ice, or you’re in the gym or off-ice and you do hockey stuff,” he said. “The rest of the day, you’re doing school. But to be able to be in this program, you need certain grades. And I was not an A student across the board (laughs).”
Letang always liked math, science and physics, and did well in those subjects – to the point where if he wasn’t a hockey player, he says he would be an architect. Or, if he were to stay in hockey, the Penguins’ current NHLPA player representative would love a GM-type of role.
“Managing numbers and trying to form a team and trying to get pieces all together is more the type of thing I would love to do,” he said.
But Letang didn’t do as well in subjects like French, English and history, so he had to work extra hard to make sure he didn’t lose his scholarship.
“They were paying for my schooling at the private school if I was able to play for the team,” Letang said. “So, I went there, and basically I was playing hockey at school half of the day. I was playing on my city team and I was also playing for the high school team. I was literally on the ice I would say five hours a day, every day.”
It was never too much for the hockey-crazed Letang, who credits Christiane for helping to keep it fun for him.
“I never got pushed into hockey,” he said. “It was always a question of if I still loved to play the game, and if not, we were just going to stop. She was my biggest supporter.”
While Letang was growing up playing hockey in Sainte-Julie, each age group had the following classifications, ranked from highest to lowest: AAA, AA, BB, CC, A, B, C.
Letang was a forward until he was 13 years old, when he made the Bantam BB team out of tryouts. Halfway through the season, he got called up to the AA team as a defenseman, and had a fantastic year.
For the following season, he had to choose between playing a second year of Bantam or trying to make the Midget AAA team. Letang went for the latter, and made the team out of training camp, again as a defenseman.
That meant he had to leave his Sport and Study school to attend the school that the Midget AAA team was associated with, called Collège Antoine-Girouard. And in Letang’s first year there, he experienced something that’s quite hard to believe considering where he is now.
“I play 10 minutes a game, I’m an average guy,” he said. “Actually, during that year, I almost lost all hope that I was going to make hockey a living. Because I’m like wow, these guys are way better than me. I don’t play at all.”
But Letang stuck with it, and eventually ended up having a terrific playoff performance for Antoine-Girouard as they advanced to the 2003 Air Canada Cup, which is the Midget AAA national championship.
And although Letang’s team lost in the final, he was able to start making a name for himself there. But while his hope began to return, Letang was still not convinced, especially with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Draft happening that summer.
“I even told my mom, I don’t even want to go to the draft,” he said. “I think I’m not going to get drafted. I don’t think it’s going to happen. But she said no no no, you’re going to be fine.”
That’s what Letang’s agent told him as well, assuring his client that not only would he be selected – he would be selected high.
“He goes, you’re crazy. You’re going second or third round,” Letang said. “And I’m like no, there’s no chance. And I end up going middle of second.”
Letang went 27th overall to the Val d’Or Foreurs, and attended their training camp that fall. While he performed well, the team already had two top defensemen, including future 10th-overall Vancouver Canucks draft pick Luc Bourdon. He would become Letang’s best friend before passing away in a motorcycle accident in 2008.
Though Letang was sent back to Antoine-Girouard following that training camp, this time, he felt much better about his future.
“My agent sat with me, and goes, I know you’re not in junior and you’re going to miss a year of having scouts in the barn and watching you play because you’re Midget AAA,” Letang recalled, “but if you have a strong year, once you go to major junior at 17 and you’re a confident kid and you have one (good) year to show the scouts, that’s our main goal.”
And that’s what Letang did. Aided by a growth spurt – he went from 5-foot-9 and 158 pounds his first year to 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds his second year – Letang had a tremendous second season with Antoine-Girouard.
“I got in junior at 17 with tons of confidence,” Letang said. “I had a great year and that’s when I got drafted by the Penguins.”
Now 33 years old, Letang has spent all 13-plus seasons of his NHL career with the organization that took him in the third round (62nd overall) in 2005. The three-time Stanley Cup Champion owns every single significant team record for a defenseman and is part of the franchise’s core along with Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
And Letang has battled through so much along the way, including significant health issues, like the stroke he suffered at 26 and the major neck surgery he underwent days before turning 30. All of that adversity has helped give him an even greater appreciation for where he is now.
“When you get treated like we’re getting treated here, you’re blessed,” Letang said. “You don’t want to take anything for granted because hockey goes fast. I had the chance to play with guys like Billy Guerin, John LeClair, (Mark Recchi), and they tell you to enjoy every moment because it goes fast. The next thing you know you’re done with hockey. I can’t take anything for granted. We have the best organization in hockey and just to have the chance to be here every day is special.”
He also feels incredibly fortunate for his wife and children. After Alex was born in 2012, it was a long and hard road for the Letangs to expand their family, like Kris had always dreamed about.
But as Letang wrote in an Instagram post after Victoria was born: “Each family has its own story, and I could not be happier with how things have worked out after the past five years.” And he could not be happier for the opportunity to be around them full-time over these past weeks.
“There’s a lot of great things about being a dad,” he said. “But I would say my favorite one is that every morning is a new day with your kids and they have smiles on their faces, they just want to see you and either play or do anything – create something, draw something. They always have a smile and they bring happiness into your life. They’re the center of your family.
“They’re what holds it all together.”
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