VOORHEES – On Sept. 11, 2001, future Vancouver Canucks star Christopher Higgins woke up on Long Island and watched his father, a firefighter, go to work in New York City.
Christopher turned on the television and wondered if his father was ever coming home.
Fortunately he did. But several of his father’s close friends didn’t, casualties of the worst tragedy in United States history.
It’s difficult to surmise how much emotional strength came to Higgins from that experience but this much we do know: He never once backed down from a challenge in the ever-demanding National Hockey League.
Two members of the Flyers – Brandon Manning and Travis Konecny – spent their youth growing up in similar family environments.
Both have fathers who fight fires, a profession demanding courage and bravery right up there with the police and military.
While neither has experienced the epic drama of that late summer day in New York some 16 years ago, they know the dangers of their fathers’ line of work and have accepted it.
In separate interviews on Wednesday at the Skate Zone, each acknowledged that being the son of a fireman might have created an environment conducive to becoming a hockey player.
It’s a sport where losing one’s teeth or suffering a concussion are about as ho-hum as turning an ankle in some other games.
By all logic, it takes someone willing to hit and be hit. While it’s not as risky as battling a towering inferno, it does have its own set of dangers.
“Maybe it’s just the genes you get from your father,’’ Manning said. “I think it’s more the lifestyle, how closely they (firefighting, hockey) are related.
“When he goes to work, it’s five or six guys, between (ages) 25 and 45, similar to here. You’ve got guys that are just coming out of high school or college and you have guys who are married with families.
“I think those components bring into everyday what I do as well.’’
Like his son, Leroy Manning goes about his business in a quietly efficient manner. That workmanlike approach helped ease any concerns his son might have about his safety.
“I didn’t worry too much,’’ Manning said. “He was pretty quiet about it. He’s seen some incidents, some bad car accidents. . .but he was never really one to come home and talk about them or relate to them.
“It was probably something good for me because it didn’t keep me up at night.’’
Konecny had a similar experience.
“It (firefighting) is definitely a scary job,’’ he said. “It humbles you a little bit when you see like my dad (Rob) and all his best buddies come together and go into a fire to protect the community.
“It’s something I definitely look up to him for. It takes a lot to be able to do that.
“I definitely got a lot of my encouragement from that when I was growing up.’’
And like his teammate, Konecny was able to put aside any fears he might have as a youngster.
“I know my dad, he’s well-trained and I know all the guys he’s with are well-trained,’’ Konecny said. “As far as I’m concerned, every time he’s going to work, I feel pretty safe and comfortable for him.’’
Both Manning and Konecny took part in a give-back to the community sort of thing recently when they helped install smoke detectors in some South Philadelphia homes.
“Any time you go out in the community it’s fun,’’ Manning said, “ but something like that which I can relate to a little bit more, like in South Philly where there are some older homes, it’s great to be able to help there.’’
Konency also enjoyed the experience.
“It’s nice to know we’re putting that thought of safety into everyone’s heads,’’ he said. “We’re giving that thought to them that they can sleep comfortable at night and they know their safety is being taken care of.’’