A long day's journey to Flyers
Glen Metropolit had hockey to help him get where he is today.
One brother is a professional athlete who lives in Haddonfield, an upscale town with tree-lined streets.
The other brother lives in a prison cell.
One brother, Glen Metropolit, 34, joined the Flyers this summer as a free agent and hopes to help them win their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
The other brother, Troy Metropolit, 30, is serving a 14-year jail sentence for a carjacking and subsequent kidnapping - and is awaiting trial on a murder charge.
"Our lives," said Glen Metropolit, "are completely different."
Glen and Troy Metropolit grew up in a drug-infested project in the Cabbage Town section of Toronto. When their single mother lost her job, they were shuffled to numerous foster homes.
The boys spent one Christmas at a hostel, sleeping on faded blue mats that were packed together on a gym floor. Their Christmas presents that year were mittens and a hat provided by the local church in a gift bag.
When a fire destroyed the hostel's kitchen one year, the Metropolit brothers, who had been reunited with their mother, moved into a hotel filled with hookers and crack addicts.
"It was, um, interesting," Metropolit said a few days ago in the Flyers' Skate Zone dressing room in Voorhees.
Metropolit talks on the phone three or four times a year with his jailed brother - "I'll always love him," Glen said - but he conceded that the conversations are sometimes strained because of their different situations.
He remains close with his mother, Linda Lafferty, who now works as a bus driver in Toronto.
"She did everything she could for us, and she's just the best," he said. "She's the best mom you could have. She'd give me her last dollar to go to a hockey game. She has the biggest heart of anybody I've ever seen."
Lafferty said she sometimes wonders, with anguish, why her other son gravitated toward trouble instead of sports. She is surprised that Glen remembers so much about his uneven childhood.
"Sometimes, I wish he didn't," she said with a chuckle.
"They say everything happens for a reason, and I guess it built character in him," she said. "He was always upbeat and happy as a child, and he's still that way. If you're feeling down, Glen is the one who picks you up."
Metropolit said he didn't care that he lived in poverty, didn't care that he lived like a vagabond in crime-filled neighborhoods. He had plenty of friends. And, unlike his younger brother, he had a sport that kept him focused and out of trouble.
"Hockey was my outlet," he said, his soft smile displaying a hockey trademark - a missing upper tooth. "I'd always go to the rink. With everything that was going on at home - problems or whatever - that was your outlet. That was your happiness - being at the rink. And I'd be there every day after school until they turned the lights off. I'd go home, go to sleep and back to school the next day, then right back to the rink. That was just a way of life for me."
"Hockey was his world," said Lafferty, whose daughter Nikki is 24. "Watching hockey. Playing hockey. He'd be sitting watching TV and playing with a hockey stick and a ball. Everything was hockey."
Troy found trouble early
In 1999, then 23-year-old Troy Metropolit and 22-year-old Lawrence DaSilva and a third under-age man, car-jacked Toronto lawyer Schuyler Sigel and his wife, Lynn, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. account.
The three men then held the Sigels in a car trunk for four hours, beat them and ransacked the Sigel home. Eventually, Troy Metropolit and DaSilva pleaded guilty.
Last year, Troy Metropolit was charged with killing a fellow inmate in 2003 while in a prison in Bath, Ontario. No trial date has been set for the latest charge, Lafferty said.
Growing up, Troy was frequently in trouble - even at a rink, said Glen, who played youth hockey with his brother.
"He was a little kid and wanted to fight all the time on the ice," Glen said. "One day, the coach just told my mom he can't be on the team because he wants to fight his teammates. Then he got involved with a crowd that didn't play hockey, and if you're not playing hockey down there in the city, you're leaning toward another group of kids. You're stealing bikes, and next thing you know, you're stealing little stuff from stores . . . and stealing cars when you're 14."
When Glen was 6, his mother's relationship with his stepfather (Bruce Metropolit) ended and she reluctantly placed her boys in foster care because she was laid off from her job as an input operator at the Toronto Stock Exchange.
"My mom didn't have the means to get a place for us, so it was one of those situations where it was best for her to get her feet on the ground and let us get taken care of in a foster home," said Metropolit, who has never met his biological father and is contemplating a search for him. "I'd see my mom on the weekends and she'd drop me off [at the foster home] on Sunday night."
"It was just a really bad time in my life," said Lafferty, 53. "I would see the kids every weekend, but it was pretty heartbreaking when they went back."
Living in five foster homes in an 18-month span, Metropolit said he didn't become close with his foster parents because he was "never there long enough."
"The toughest part was when they separated me from my brother," he said. "He was with me in one home and then they put me in a different home. That's the heartbreak I remember."
After about 1½ years in foster homes - "it seemed like an eternity," Metropolit said - the brothers moved back with their mother. But financial problems soon forced Glen to move in with different relatives.
Along the way, he continued to play hockey.
"My escape," he called it.
At 16, he moved in with his uncle, Neil Karrandjas, a man Metropolit calls his father figure.
"He was the uncle who had the good job, and he'd take care of me, give me sticks if I needed them," Metropolit said. "So I lived with him for a couple of years and played junior hockey. I think the world of him. He got me on the straight and narrow. He'd be playing in men's pickup hockey leagues on Saturday evenings. I could have been out doing other stuff, but I'd be out skating with him and all his buddies."
His uncle steered him away from trouble, but there were temptations in Toronto, and Metropolit decided it was best to leave. He moved to British Columbia and played his final year of junior hockey year with the Vernon Lakers while living with a family recommended by the hockey team.
"I went from Toronto all the way out there because Toronto wasn't the right place for me," he said. "I don't want to say the junior leagues there [Toronto] weren't a challenge, but I needed another challenge. So, to get my act together, I had to move out of the city because I was seeing myself going down the wrong lane. My buddies weren't chasing hockey anymore . . .. Some were getting involved with drugs, and I found myself going down the wrong road a little bit."
Living with a caring family and playing junior hockey in British Columbia "totally changed my life," he said. "Going out there and focusing on high school and finishing off and getting my diploma" was a big step.
Much like in his youth, Metropolit had to move around to earn a hockey living. He played for Nashville and Pensacola of the East Coast Hockey League and Atlanta, Quebec and Grand Rapids of the International Hockey League before signing with the Washington Capitals in 1999.
But the shifting did not stop.
He was back-and-forth to the minors every season during the four seasons with the Capitals - interrupted by a two-game stay with Tampa Bay in 2001.
Metropolit then spent three seasons in Europe, two in Finland, one in Switzerland. Then he signed with the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers for the 2006-07 season, but was traded to St. Louis.
Metropolit showed up to the Boston Bruins training camp in 2007 without a contract. He made the team, got a one-year $500,000 contract, played in all 82 regular-season games and all seven playoff games. He scored 11 goals for the Bruins.
When the Flyers signed him to a two-year deal worth $2 million, it was a relative jackpot.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren describes the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Metropolit as a "high-energy player" and appreciates his ability to play any forward position. He had only 36 minutes in penalties last season. "He's a real good fit for us," Holmgren said.
Metropolit played with current Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on Team Canada a few years ago. He is aware that the Flyers reached the Eastern Conference finals and the core group remains. He said last season was "a great stepping-stone for all these young guys. With the talent we have in the room, I think the sky's the limit."
Metropolit could be the team's fourth-line center and part of the Flyers' penalty-killing unit.
"I feel blessed to be a part of this team and I'm just [grateful] to Paul Holmgren and his staff for bringing me in," Metropolit said. "I hope to be a good part of the puzzle."
Metropolit knows that foster kids can feel left out of puzzles, but he wants no pity.
"I don't want people to feel sorry for me," he said. "There's nothing to feel sorry about. I was loved and I had my friends. I always felt loved, and what more could you want?"
Glen and his wife, Michlyn, have three children: Alivia, 6; Max, 4; and Esther, 2. With that new contract, money is not an issue. But Glen is a doting father who, perhaps because of his unstable roots, is immersed in his children's lives.
"I love my kids so much that I can't give them enough affection," he said. "My wife tells me I need to work on the discipline part of it. That's tough for me."
While hoping to give his children a strong foundation, Metropolit tries to help the current generation of foster kids.
Last year, the Bruins invited a group of foster children to attend a game and sit in a suite. After the game, Metropolit met with them and answered questions about his foster background and, of course, hockey. He hopes to the same with the Flyers.
"I love doing it," Metropolit said. "It's so important for kids to know they can make it out of a bad situation if they keep on chasing their dreams. I just held onto that all the time. Don't let anyone belittle you or tell you you're not good enough. Keep working and stick to your confidence and you can achieve whatever you want."