Tale of two brothers: Brinson, Steenn Pasichnuk share hockey journey from ASU to San Jose

Tale of two brothers: Brinson, Steenn Pasichnuk share hockey journey from ASU to San Jose

From their childhood days of ice fishing on Moose Lake in Bonnyville, Alberta, to building the hockey program from the ground up at Arizona State, Brinson and Steenn Pasichnuk have been inseparable every step of their hockey journey.

Left: Brinson and Steenn Pasichnuk learned how to skate from their father Michael Pasichnuk in their homemade backyard rink in Bonnyville, Alberta. (Photo courtesy of Michael Pasichnuk) Right: Pasichnuk brothers graduation photo. (Photo courtesy of Steenn Pasichnuk)

Left: Brinson and Steenn Pasichnuk learned how to skate from their father Michael Pasichnuk in their homemade backyard rink in Bonnyville, Alberta. (Photo courtesy of Michael Pasichnuk) Right: Pasichnuk brothers graduation photo. (Photo courtesy of Steenn Pasichnuk)

On a bright winter day in 2006, Brinson and Steenn Pasichnuk were perched on a pair of five-gallon buckets that sat on the frozen sheet of ice covering Moose Lake in Bonnyville, a small town in the far eastern reaches of Alberta, Canada.

They waited for hours with their fishing rods, patiently dangling bait below the ice. Michael Pasichnuk, Brinson and Steenn’s father, watched his sons from a nearby trailer that had an aluminum fishing boat named Pasichnuk Boys Fishing Team hitched to the rear of it.

When they weren’t skating on it, Brinson and Steenn, former Arizona State hockey players, spent a large part of their youth fishing through the ice along their lake-front lot.

“Fishing was literally our videogames,” Brinson said. “There would be other kids that would be playing video games inside. We would be out on the lake eight, nine hours a day.”

As the sun warmed their backs, Brinson,13, and Steenn,15, passed the time, sharing stories and cracking jokes. The Pasichnuks found their outdoor hobby as a peaceful distraction from everyday life.

“It just takes all the stress away, sort of like hockey,” Steenn said. “It was really calming with Brinson and my brothers. It’s something I’ll hold in my mind for the rest of my life.”

Suddenly, Brinson’s line began to move and he struggled to get a firm grip.

“Brinson was shouting, ‘I need help! I can’t get it!’” Michael said of what he overheard from his warm seat in the trailer.

Steenn got up from his bucket and rushed over to help his younger brother. After 10 minutes of tugging and reeling, they finally pulled a 10-pound pike out of the frigid water.

“The look on their face, it was priceless,” Michael said. “That was the kind of relationship Brinson and Steenn had. A lot of friends looked up to them because of their leadership and for what they stood for in their life.”

From those childhood days with their fishing poles, an iron brotherly bond was forged.

Traveling off the beaten path and facing tough decisions and challenges along their journey, Brinson and Steenn became founding fathers for Arizona State’s Division I hockey program and are one step away from achieving their dream of playing professional hockey in San Jose.

A hockey family

Brinson and Steenn grew up near Bonnyville, a town of about 6,000 located nearly 150 miles northeast of Edmonton.

The Pasichnuks lived outside the town in their countryside home. Michael and Kathi Pasichnuk raised a hockey family of four boys – Colbie (30), Steenn (25), Brinson (22), and Tehgann (21).

Michael, a former goalie for the Senior-A Bonnyville Pontiacs, dreamed of his family playing professional hockey, so he built a small rink for his boys.

“I used to buy these ice rink kits in a bag from Sears,” Michael said. “It was 30-feet wide, 40-feet long. I would fill a plastic bag with water and it would freeze overnight. In our backyard in town, I would put two of them together and I would build them an ice rink there.”

The Pasichnuks regularly invited their family and friends over to icefish and skate in their backyard. Even their grandparents would make the three-hour drive from Edmonton to join them on their homemade rink.

“To watch both of (Brinson and Steenn) together, that was like a gift from God,” said Sharon Dettling-Albers, Brinson and Steenn’s grandmother. “They are just an amazing pair. On the ice, they are so suited to each other.”

It became a staple every year during the winter holidays.

Donning a retro San Jose Sharks jersey, Brinson Pasichnuk practices with his father, Michael Pasichnuk, on the rink in their backyard in Bonnyville, Alberta (Photo courtesy of Michael Pasichnuk)

“Every Christmas, we’d have a family hockey game and drink hot chocolate in our backyard rink,” Kathi said. “We’d invite friends and enjoy it as best we can.”

“All-day Christmas Eve, we would go out on the lake and make a little rink and just play for hours and hours,” Brinson said. “Those are some of my favorite memories in life, just being out there with my family.”

While their love of the game sprouted from their dad’s guidance, Brinson and Steenn found a strong passion watching the Bonnyville Pontiacs (of the American Junior Hockey League) play at R.J. Lalonde Arena.

“Everyone from my hometown goes and watches the Pontiacs,” Steenn said. “We watched every game together when we were younger and watching people like Justin Fontaine, who had an NHL career.”

On Pontiacs’ game days, the Pasichnuks could not wait to go to the rink later at night.

“When we told them we’re going to a Junior Pontiac game the night before, we usually got a call from their teachers (the next day), saying, ‘What’s wrong with the kids? Their minds weren’t in class today.’” Michael said. “I said, ‘They’re going to a Junior A game tonight.’”

When Brinson and Steenn reached the ages of 14 and 17, respectively, they had to make the first difficult decision of their hockey careers – whether to move together to advance their careers in Lloydminster, a 90-mile journey northwest of Bonnyville.

“We let Brinson move away quite young,” Kathi said. “We would have never done that without Steenn. Those two were so, so tight. I don’t think Brinson would have gotten as far as he got without the support of his older brother. … He always had his older brother and his best friend right beside him.”

A new challenge

When they arrived in Lloydminster, Kyle Tapp, a skill-development coach with Hockey Alberta, took Brinson and Steenn under his wing. They made an hour-long drive, three days a week, to practice with Tapp at the Triple-A midget level. Over the course of their training, Tapp noticed that the brotherly bond Brinson and Steen shared contributed to their skill development and conditioning on the ice.

“There were lots of times where one of the brothers was struggling with a particular skill or got frustrated,” Tapp said. “The other one would cruise by and whisper in his ear and say, ‘Stick with it. It’s going to pay off.’”

A year later, Brinson and Steenn tried out for Pontiacs, the hometown team they grew up watching.

Rick Swan, who has been Bonnyville’s coach and general manager since 2013, was impressed with their tryouts, but he advised Brinson to take up another year of development at the Triple-A level – splitting the brothers, if not their bond.

“Brinson was a frontrunner before his first year with the Pontiacs,” Michael said. “Talking with the coaches and Rick Swan, who is a very big part of why the boys are where they are at today, they said, ‘Mike, one more year for Brinson at Triple-A level would benefit him. We don’t want to bring him down. It was a long conversation. Brinson was a little heartbroken. It was the first year he had to go to Lloydminster without his brother.”

After tallying 18 points in 35 games with the Lloydminster Bobcats U18 team, Brinson joined Steenn, who became a captain in his second season with the Pontiacs.

The chemistry between two local kids elevated the Pontiacs to new heights. In their first season together, Brinson was a finalist for Most Outstanding Rookie with 29 points, and Steenn put up a season-high 31 points as a first-year captain while pushing Bonnyville on a magical run to the second round of the AJHL playoffs.

Early in his second year with the Pontiacs, Brinson received his first NCAA offer and verbally committed to Vermont. Brinson was the first member of his family to receive a full scholarship offer.

“It was a point in my life where it was my dream to get an NCAA scholarship from a really good school,” Brinson said. “Vermont came and offered me. I think I might not have completely thought it through, because I probably didn’t realize I had a chance to play college with my brother.”

Second thoughts

A few months passed during their breakout season, Brinson woke up one morning and it suddenly occurred to him that maybe he could play somewhere in college with Steenn, who was beginning to draw interest from college programs, too.

“I never thought about that before,” Brinson said of the decision-making process that led to his commitment to Vermont.

He was having second thoughts.

“When Brinson got word that other teams were looking at his brother, Brinson decided, ‘I’m decommitting. I don’t care. I want to play with my brother,’” Kathi said.

The Pasichnuks wanted the family aspect to be highlighted in their college recruitment, which led Brinson to make the difficult decision to reopen his recruitment, making the call to Vermont from the phone in Swan’s office.

“I facilitated the conversation up until when Brinson had to disclose it with the Vermont coaches,” Swan said. “I couldn’t believe how mature he handled himself with one of the most difficult conversations I couldn’t even imagine for an adult to make. But he did it as an 18-year-old young man.”

Following Brinson’s decommitment from Vermont, Brinson and Steenn knew they weren’t going to play college hockey anywhere without one another. And they let college coaches know it.

“When I decommitted from Vermont, I told Steenn, ‘We’re going somewhere together. I’m not making that mistake again,” Brinson said. “I want to play hockey with you in college.’”

Steenn agreed.

“We made it very well known that we wanted to be and play together,” he said. “It meant everything to me to play with Brinson in college. It was a make-or-break deal.”

It soon became apparent that the package deal wasn’t going to limit their options. The brothers received offers to play together at several prestigious college hockey programs, including North Dakota, Northern Michigan, and Western Michigan.

Then, Arizona State coach Greg Powers called.

Brinson and Steenn huddled around the speakerphone in their living room while Michael, Kathi, Colbie and Tehgann eavesdropped from the kitchen. The Pasichnuk family listened to Powers pitch Brinson and Steenn on building the foundation for a rising Division I hockey program in the desert.

“There were a ton of selling points, but the biggest one that just resonated with them more than any was that they could come here, shape the program, build the culture and be the tradition,” Powers said. “They really bought into that mantra of “Be The Tradition” and wanted to come here and set a standard and be the legacy.”

It was a tough goodbye leaving the Pontiacs and the community of Bonnyville behind, but
Brinson and Steenn were ready for the next chapter of their hockey careers together in college.

“Their last game, Steenn was sobbing,” Kathi said. “Brinson was crying, but he put his arm around Steenn. That memory stands out more than ever.”

On to Tempe

Brinson and Steenn made the 1,770-mile journey with their family to Tempe, taking in a vastly different landscape and lifestyle from what they experienced growing up next to the lake in Bonnyville.

There won’t be any ice covering Tempe Town Lake anytime soon.

“Definitely a culture shock,” Brinson said. “I had to do some clothes shopping to adjust to the weather. … I grew up in a town of 6,000 people and came to a university of 70,000 people in Tempe. It was intriguing. There were a lot of things I had to learn.”

The Pasichnuk family settled into the Valley, strolled through Palm Walk, climbed up ‘A’ Mountain, and finally took a golf cart ride with ASU assistant coach Alex Hicks to their new home for the next four years – Oceanside Ice Arena.

“I walked in and I joked, ‘OK, is this the practice rink?’” Michael said. “(Hicks) said, ‘This is home for a few years until we build a new one.’”

Although the Sun Devils had little expectations during their first full Division I season, Brinson and Steenn adapted to a new lifestyle, balancing school, hockey and extracurricular activities.

“It was hard going to the rink every day when your team was struggling,” Brinson said. “Never been that busy in my life.”

While Powers mentored his players on the ice, he also helped Brinson and Steenn make the right decisions in managing their priorities in athletics and academics.

“There was a point in time in their first year where (Brinson and Steenn) came into my office and asked to join a fraternity and I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Powers said. “That’s the unworldly experience they thought they could juggle something like that and be a Division I athlete.”

In their second NCAA season, ASU highlighted their 8-21-5 campaign with the program’s first tournament victory in the inaugural Ice Vegas Invitational in Las Vegas.

Brinson potted a pair of goals in a 3-2 win over Michigan Tech in the championship with the Pasichnuk family in attendance at T-Mobile Arena.

While his younger brother shined on the big stage, Steenn did not get the opportunity to play in the tournament. Powers sat him as a healthy scratch and Steenn watched his teammates win from the stands.

“That was one of the toughest moments for him,” Michael said. “He veered off the path for a couple weeks. Powers let him know that he did. When Steenn realized and came back, he told Powers, ‘You’re never sitting me out again.’ Steenn realized, just because I’m here, doesn’t mean that I can’t take everything for granted. It was tough on Steenn and Brinson was there for him.”

Brinson and Steenn Pasichnuk drop the gloves in a heated contest against the University of Denver at Gila River Arena. (Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

Although Brinson continued to find success on the ice, Steenn supported his younger brother all the time, even when Brinson became ASU’s second captain in program history.

Steenn did not have the goal-scoring talents like his brother, but he excelled as a punishing power forward. His 6-foot-4, 208-pound frame allowed him to anchor ASU’s penalty kill.

“(Steenn) worked to become a better version of himself and you need guys like him at every level,” Powers said. “He did what he did and what he was supposed to do so well, which was not to score. It was essentially not to get scored on and give us energy in any way and win draws and kill penalties.”

After an eight-win campaign during their sophomore years, there was no reason to believe ASU was on the verge of a program-shifting season, but the Sun Devils turned heads. The Pasichnuks helped put ASU on the college hockey map with a stunning 21-12-1 campaign.

After a historic regular season, Brinson and Steenn anxiously waited for the reveal of the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament berth. The Pasichnuks watched ESPN’s selection show during the team’s banquet at the Papago Golf Course in Phoenix.

“Watching the show, it got kind of scary because they kept listing all these teams and brackets. It got to the last bracket and we were the last selection and they said, ‘Quinnipiac … will play Arizona State.’”

Finally, the Pasichnuks embraced the moment when they saw “Arizona State” flash on the screen as the last of 16 teams to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

“I couldn’t imagine going to school with my brother, who’s also my best friend,” Brinson said. “Now, we’re about to go play in the NCAA Tournament game that we watched on TV for years, and we’re a part of that now.”

In just its third full D-I season, ASU became the first independent team in 27 years to make the NCAA tournament and the program to qualify in the shortest amount of time since Mercyhurst in 2001.

The No. 3-seeded Sun Devils flew cross-country to Allentown, Pennsylvania for their Midwest Regional matchup against No. 2-seeded Quinnipiac. Brinson and Steenn’s mother, father, grandmother, and friends from Bonnyville made the trip to watch Brinson and Steenn add another milestone to their hockey careers.

“We couldn’t sleep that night,” Steenn said. “We were so excited. We were going through every play and just thinking about the game. We started talking about how cool it would be to play in this tournament.”

They decided to include their dad in the conversation.

“I got a call from both of them late at night, saying, ‘Dad, we can’t sleep,’” Michael said. “I said it’s a moment like I told them, ‘You take this feeling that you’re holding and bottle it up because you don’t get a lot of opportunities to feel that. Cherish that. That bus ride to the rink. Getting dressed. That first time you step onto the ice. It’s reality. You know you’re there.’”

The Pasichnuks, donning their alternate road maroon and gray jerseys, waited to take the ice for the first time at PPL Center.

“It was nerve-racking,” Steenn said. “We were sitting in the room before the game. Adrenaline pumping. (Then-sophomore forward) Johnny Walker summed it up pretty well, ‘If you can bottle this feeling up and sell it, you’d make a million dollars.’ I couldn’t agree with it anymore.”

The Sun Devils stumbled early, trailing the Bobcats 2-0 after 40 minutes. In between periods, ASU needed a shot of adrenaline.

“We knew we were in the game,” Powers said. “I reminded everybody in the room (of) what we all collectively had gone through to get to that moment, and the result at the end of the day didn’t matter. But if we come back in this room and not empty every ounce of gas that we had in the tank and leave it on the ice, we were going to regret that for the rest of our life. And we did.”

Brinson, the team’s captain, spoke up in the locker room.

“I remember I told my team, ‘I’m going to score the first goal,’” Brinson said.

Sure enough, with eight minutes remaining in the third period, Brinson’s wrist shot from the center of the blueline found the top corner of the net for the first ASU goal in NCAA tournament history.

“It’s one of my favorite college goals,” Brinson said. “ I remember getting the pass up from (then-senior forward) Jake Clifford and spinning on the blueline a few times. I shot it and my mind stood still while I was watching the puck go in. It went in and I was in shock.”

Steenn, who had screened the Bobcats’ netminder during the entire offensive zone shift, dashed over to celebrate with his younger brother and his teammates.

“(Brinson) shot and I moved out of the way and saw the puck hit the back of the net,” Steenn said. “I remember skating out to center and I said to Brinson, ‘Atta boy, let’s go!’”

ASU pulled their goalie in the final few minutes. Momentum was on their side, but time wasn’t. The final whistle blew. ASU was defeated, 2-1, but Brinson and Steenn’s hopes of building the program were not diminished.

“When we lost that game, I remember talking to Steen and saying, ‘We need to be here next year,’” Brinson said.

The Pasichnuks’ only grew stronger on and off the ice, but Brinson and Steenn were not confident about training at an NHL summer camp together. Brinson wanted a break after attending three camps in the past three offseasons while Steenn waited for his first chance to train with an NHL team.

Then, Steenn and Brinson got a call from their agent.

“I remember Steenn calls me and he says, ‘San Jose wants me to come to their camp,’ Michael said. “I said, ‘Well that’s cool! I called Brinson and said, ‘You know about this? And he said, ‘Yep!’ Then I said, ‘And?’ ‘Dad, do you think for one second I would miss Steenn’s first NHL camp? Never. I’m there with him, because I remember my first camp and I want to see the look on his face.”

During San Jose’s development camp, Brinson and Steenn participated in a prospects scrimmage on the same team in front of over 3,500 fans at SAP Center. They each even got the chance to shoot during the post-game shootout contest.

“It was a very cool moment,” Steenn said. “The announcer came on and said, ‘First one to shoot for Team Teal, Steenn Pasichnuk,’ and all those eyes are on you at center ice. Not a lot of people get to experience that, so that was definitely a unique and special moment.”

“It gave me a glimpse of ‘Man, what if we got to do this at the pro level together?’” Brinson said. “‘This is surreal.’ We are playing together at the prospects game on the same team. I know he won’t ever forget that. I won’t either.”

San Jose left a good first impression for the Pasichnuks, but they were determined to return for their final season at ASU.

Brinson completed his senior year with record-smashing numbers. The 5-foot-10, 208-pound defenseman set a new program record for points (37) and assists (26) by a defenseman in a Sun Devil season on top of ranking No. 1 in games played (136), points (107), assists (68) in school history.

Steenn found his true identity as a shutdown forward on the Sun Devils’ physical fourth line, which was heavily used against opponents’ top lines. He finished his ASU career with six goals and 19 points in 111 games played.

After helping ASU secure a program-best 22 wins, Brinson and Steenn were set to make their redemption tour in the NCAA Tournament.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

On March 12th, the Pasichnuks learned that their days of playing college hockey together suddenly had come to a halt.

Fulfilling dreams

The future of their hockey careers was not clear. Brinson and Steenn knew they had to make decisions for themselves now. They were one month away from graduating ASU with their eyes focused on playing hockey at the next level.

However, playing together at the professional level seemed like a dream too good to be true.

“I had a conversation with my agent,” Steenn said. “He asked me, ‘Do you want to play with Brinson?’ and I said, ‘At this time, it’s very important I think that we make individual decisions for ourselves and see where the best fit for us (is).’ Me and Brinson talked, but now it was time for us to take the opportunity that presents you with the most possible success at the next level.”

Brinson received interest from a few NHL teams. San Jose was one of the first NHL teams to offer him an entry-level NHL deal, but he wanted to talk over all of his options with his brothers, his parents and his wife.

Steenn had a few offers on the table from American Hockey League clubs, but he waited to hear back from San Jose.

“We always hoped that the Sharks would come back,” Michael said.

Turned out they were circling.

“One day, we were talking with San Jose, they said they wanted both of us,” Brinson said. “That was the sign I needed. This team, this organization truly wanted to treat us as a family. They wanted our family to be a part of it. They truly want both of us. I knew San Jose was the place.”

On March 30th, 2020, Brinson agreed to the terms of a two-year entry-level contract with the San Jose Sharks. Brinson became the first Sun Devil in program history to sign an NHL contract as an undrafted free agent.

“I was definitely a limp noodle,” Michael said. “I think I ran more water than Niagara Falls in 30 seconds. It was a dream come true for Brinson. He’s worked so hard to earn it.”

Steenn was proud of his younger brother. Although Steenn received word over the phone that he would play in San Jose with Brinson, he had to wait until his college graduation before he could officially sign a contract.

On June 1st, 2020, Steenn officially joined his brother, signing a one-year contract with the San Jose Barracuda, the AHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling,” Steenn said. “You never know what can happen until you get that contract sitting in front of you. Just to be with my little brother and best friend for at least another year is great. It’s weird, I can’t even remember life without Brinson. To be able to put pen to paper with the same organization as my brother was a huge relief and a lot of happiness for my family as well.”

“For our family, we could not ask for anything better to have both of them at the same place, so that way when we visit them, we could see them both play,” their grandmother said. “We just couldn’t ask for anything better.”

From their childhood days of ice fishing on Moose Lake in Bonnyville to building the hockey program from the ground up at ASU, Brinson and Steenn have been inseparable every step of the way.

“It’s like they’re twins,” Michael said. “When one’s feeling something, the other one just knows it. It’s very fortunate that Brinson and Steenn got to experience what they experienced through hockey and their brotherhood and their friendship together.”

Now, Brinson and Steenn are practicing and preparing together, waiting for the upcoming NHL and AHL seasons in December. The Pasichnuks plan on going to San Jose in late October to begin another new chapter of their hockey careers together. The ice fishing will have to wait.

“We were always brothers,” Brinson said. “We were always friends, but now we’re best friends who are brothers.”

Michael Gutnick

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Michael Gutnick is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sports broadcast journalism and a minor in mathematics. He is a digital reporter for Cronkite Sports this spring.