The bond between brothers is special. The bond between teammates is special. The bond between two brothers on the Western Michigan hockey team is no exception.
Mattias and Lukas Samuelsson are back playing hockey and going to school together for the first time since 2015 when they went to boarding school in New York. Now they are both in Kalamazoo, playing for the 13th-ranked Broncos.
Mattias, 18, is currently having a fantastic freshman season for the Broncos. He has four goals and five assists through 20 games and is tied for the team-lead in plus/minus with a rating of plus-13. The 6-foot-4-inch defenseman has played key minutes for a defensive corps that has seen much improvement since the beginning of the season. He also won a silver medal for Team USA at the under-20 World Junior Championships while the Broncos were playing in the Ice Vegas Invitational.
Lukas, 22, is in his sophomore season with the team so he has experience with and without his younger brother beside him. Despite only playing three games this season with Mattias, the opportunity has meant a lot to him.
“It has been exciting. It’s fun looking over in the locker room and seeing him there,” Lukas said. “My most memorable moment is when we played our first game together and I looked down the bench and saw him there, I thought that was pretty exciting.”
The two playing college hockey together has been in the works since they were kids growing up in Voorhees, New Jersey. Once they played together for a season in high school, they knew this is something they wanted to do.
“It’s been something that we’ve wanted to do for a while,” Mattias said. “It’s always nice to have your brother around. When you’re having a bad day or coach is screaming at you on the ice, I can always go to Lukas to calm me down and put me in a better mood.”
After high school, Lukas went on to play junior hockey. The year before coming to WMU, he played for the Toronto Predators of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League. There, he accumulated 36 points in 40 games and garnered the attention of WMU head coach Andy Murray. The eighth-year head coach of the Broncos was crucial in getting the brothers to Kalamazoo as he coached their father, Kjell, in the NHL. Considering that and the fact that the Broncos play in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, one of the most competitive conferences in all of college hockey, the decision to come to Kalamazoo was a no brainer, according to Lukas.
Lukas didn’t have much work to do to get Mattias to follow his path to WMU.
“He didn’t really have to do much convincing,” Mattias said. “I was really excited just hearing stories from my brother about the guys and the fun times they have here. It was a pretty easy decision.”
Before coming to WMU, Mattias polished his game playing in the United States Hockey League for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He relished his time there and knows the importance of the experience he was able to gain from playing there.
“I feel like if you’re an American born player and you want to become a hockey player, there is no better place to do it,” Mattias said.
In 2018, Mattias became the second-highest overall draft pick in program history when the Buffalo Sabres took him with the 32nd overall pick in the second round. Much of his success can be credited to his father, who was a 14-year NHL veteran.
“He’s the reason why both of us are here today,” Mattias said. “He has taught us basically everything we know from a young age.
“He still pushes today, when we go home he’s basically our personal trainer.”
Lukas also recognizes the huge role his father played in his life and hockey career. Although, their father didn’t make it easy on them and Lukas acknowledged that looking at his father’s résumé shows that he knows what he is talking about.
“He doesn’t sugarcoat it, he tells you how it is and that’s law,” Lukas said.
Despite raising his family in New Jersey, Kjell Samuelsson is from Sweden and the brothers say they are able to visit family there occasionally. Seeing where their father comes from and what he went through to make it to the NHL, while being able to experience the different cultures in Sweden has proven to be valuable to the brothers.
Growing up in a hockey family and being able to hang around their dad in NHL locker rooms are memories that Mattias and Lukas will have forever. Despite their age difference, hockey was able to bring the two together in a way that allowed them to establish a bond that eventually led both of them wanting to come to WMU.
“Me and him got along so well because we’re so much alike,” Lukas said. “It was real easy to just connect.”
Mattias and Lukas have a lot in common such as them both studying sports management at WMU, but they are four years apart and even though he is the younger brother, Mattias is four inches taller than Lukas. Though, Mattias acknowledged that it wasn’t always like that growing up.
“We were always competing, he was always better than me and bigger than me so when we were younger he was the big dog in the family,” Mattias said.
Mattias and Lukas have come a long way since their childhood days in New Jersey and now that they are able to achieve one of their dreams in life of playing college hockey together, they know not to take the moment for granted.
The brothers found themselves both in the lineup for the Broncos’ last game against St. Cloud State and they will continue to treasure that opportunity. In the meantime, they look to help along the with the Broncos impressive season.
The Broncos and the Samuelsson’s will next be in action on Jan. 25-26 when Denver visits Lawson Ice Arena. Both puck drops are scheduled for 7:05 p.m.