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Collection Of Short Stories

What the Kariya Siblings Lack in Stature They More Than Make Up for in Talent

December 08, 1999|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Blame it on T.K. After all, he's the role model for his five children. Naturally, it would be his fault.

T.K., short for Tetsuhiko Kariya, played rugby at the University of British Columbia, for club teams and for Canada in international competitions.

It's difficult to imagine him not getting crunched by bigger players in the often violent scrums. As a young man, T.K. was fast and shrewd and, well, nobody really could catch him.

So, if the Kariya household in North Vancouver, Canada, seems like a bastion of undersized overachievers, now you know why.

"Yes, yes," Sharon Kariya said, breaking into a hearty laugh. "Blame it all on my husband."

Three sons and two daughters have taken after T.K., who was born in an internment camp for Canadians of Japanese descent during World War II. The Kariya children are speedy, wily and dedicated to self-improvement. Nobody seems capable of catching them.

Perhaps only a Kariya can match strides with a Kariya. We'll see tonight, when two Kariya children face off for the first time in organized competition at the Arrowhead Pond.

Paul, 25, the captain of the Mighty Ducks, plays his first game against Steve, 21, a rookie left wing for the Vancouver Canucks.

As much as T.K. and Sharon would like to watch their eldest sons play against each other in person, they will wait until March, when the teams play twice that month in Vancouver's General Motors Place.

It's difficult imagining the Kariya household being anything but stuffed to the rafters with all things hockey. It might indeed be the case, but all is in its proper place.

T.K. has school in the morning, you see. He teaches math and computer science at Argyle Senior Secondary in suburban Vancouver.

"We'll enjoy it from afar," Sharon said. "My mother-in-law, as soon as she found out it would be Steve against Paul, her concern was who we all would be rooting for. Mom is 84. When Paul has come to town in the past, we've all been Anaheim fans.

"I think we're all hoping for a tie."

It appears to be an even matchup. The Ducks are 13-12-3-1. The Canucks are 11-11-6-1.

The battle of the Kariyas is just as close. Paul stands 5 feet 10 and weighs 173 pounds. Steve is 5-9, 165. Paul has a left-handed shot. Steve shoots right.

Paul is tied with Teemu Selanne as the Ducks' leading scorer with 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists). Steve is the NHL's fourth-leading scorer among rookies with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists).

Both helped the University of Maine win NCAA championships--Paul led the Black Bears to the 1993 title and Steve matched the feat last spring, at the Arrowhead Pond to boot.

"Steve is a little more outgoing and easygoing," Paul said. "He really lets things just bounce off him. I'm a little more introverted. Steve has always been more popular in school and on teams. He's a very likable person."

Earlier this season, Steve put this spin on being the middle of three hyper-competitive brothers, telling a Vancouver reporter: "I'm 21, Paul's 24 and Martin, my younger brother, is 18 and sometimes we still act like we're 5 or 6."

In other words, Paul and Steve have fought over the bathroom and the remote control, now check them out on the ice tonight.

"We make everything a competition," Paul said. "We love to play Ping-Pong, cribbage. . . ."

"He cheats at cards," Steve interjected.

True, according to a chuckling Paul, who added, "I think the likelihood of Steve and I dropping the gloves at center ice is pretty remote."

That's good news for proud but nervous parents back home in Canada.

Sharon Kariya figured she had at last found some peace and quiet from her children, packing Martin off to Maine last spring. Martin would join sister Noriko, 20, who is in her third year as a field hockey player for the Black Bears.

Steve figured to continue his hockey career, but it was a surprise when the Canucks signed him.

Now, Steve is back at home, driving oldest sister Michiko's car to practices or home games. Sharon gets his breakfast ready, relaxes for a bit, then fixes lunch.

"I'm back to a routine," Sharon said. "Food on the table at 1 o'clock, then he's off to bed at 1:30 and I'm keeping everything quiet around the house."

Sharon laughed. It's clearly a routine she's enjoying.

Paul's success in the NHL was something of a foregone conclusion. After all, he was the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Hobey Baker Award (hockey's Heisman Trophy). He also was a first-round pick (fourth overall) in 1993.

Steve went through four seasons at Maine, then hooked on with the Canucks as a free agent. An impressive training camp and exhibition season earned him a spot on the roster.

Martin's college career is just starting, but already there are the same questions being asked about his size and strength. Outside of the Kariya brothers, there aren't many players in the NHL smaller than 6 feet and 200 pounds.

"He's got the Kariya focus," Maine Coach Shawn Walsh told the Canadian Press. "He's got an offensive flair."

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