Leaving St Lawrence University early to report to the Sudbury Wolves in the fall of 1990, defenceman Shawn Rivers would rack up more than 130 points over the course of two seasons in the OHL.
With the additional time provided by virtue of a four-year career with the team, younger brother Jamie would ride an incredible 121-point performance in 1993-1994, becoming the all-time leading scorer, among Sudbury blueliners, amassing no less than 257 points during his tenure with the Wolves.
Fast forward one generation and the Rivers family name in gaining traction in hockey in these parts, once again, albeit in a slightly tangential manner to both his father (Shawn) and his uncle (Jamie).
Now 25 years old, goaltender Gunner Rivers has transitioned from a couple of years with the Laurentian Voyageurs, campaigns that would close the book on a very interesting journey in hockey, as a player, seeking to establish himself in the coaching ranks.
It would be folly to sell him short.
Though born in Atlanta, his father suiting up with the Atlanta Knights of the AHL at that time, Gunner would see the bulk of his minor hockey development take place in Ottawa, as the family returned to very familiar grounds.
Of course, following the Rivers' tradition and taking to the ice as a fleet-footed, quick to join in the attack blueliner would have apparently been far too simple a plan for the middle of three children.
"I made the mistake of being a goalie, so I had to deal with dad shooting on me from the beginning of my career," said Gunner. "He didn't really take it too easy on me." In fact, all things being equal, it's safe to say that his position of choice did not have the blessings of those who had come before - at least not initially.
"No one in the family wanted me to be a goalie," he said with a laugh. "Looking back in hindsight, given the knowledge that was at my disposal with two NHL caliber defencemen, I probably shouldn't have been a goalie."
Still, Rivers would develop, at least to the point of fitting comfortably within the AAA ranks and looking at pursuing the sport beyond simply his minor hockey days. "I always relied on my speed, that was most important to me," he said.
"I think it was more of a hockey IQ that I would try and bring to the game, to try and read the play, try and read the players, try and find the tells, various things that could give me an advantage. I was never the biggest, strongest kid, so I had to use my brain a lot more than my body."
Drafted by the Sarnia Sting (9th round - 2011), Rivers would begin the vagabond journey that is all too common for so many Ontario teens chasing their NHL dreams. Four years of CCHL hockey, split between three different teams (Gloucester, Kanata, Hawkesbury) created some very special memories, but did not necessarily lead to the next level.
"I really wanted to take my pursuit of a (NCAA) scholarship seriously, so I used my American citizenship to enter the NAHA (North America Hockey League) draft," said Rivers. "I was selected in the first round by the Odessa Jackalopes."
That would be Odessa as in Odessa - Texas, situated about halfway between El Paso and Fort Worth, as opposed to Odessa - Ontario, situated about ten minutes outside of Kingston. And for as much as the end goal might not have been achieved, Rivers still recalls his season in the NAHL with great fondness.
"A lot of the rinks that we played in were from the old Southern Pro Hockey League," he said. "A lot of the fans don't even realize that we were not professionals. But with some games with up to 6000 fans and taking sleeper buses to most game, it does feel quite professional. It was a really good set-up."
Of course, mid-season trades can allow for a somewhat less glamourous experience, even if Rivers joined up with a top end contender, shipped off to the Minot Minotaurs for their run at a championship.
"I made the two-day trip, from Texas to North Dakota, in my 2001 Volkswagen Golf, with no sleep," he laughed. "I got out of my car, went straight to practice after living off pretty much just coffee and McDonald's on the road. Then we jumped straight on to a bus for a road trip, I get played right away and somehow posted a shutout."
Still, options were limited as Rivers returned to Ottawa, eventually lured to Laurentian four years ago. "I had this image of a very special place, in my mind, when I would think about Sudbury, so it didn't take a lot of selling to get me to come up here."
And for as much as the hockey experience did not work out, Rivers is nothing if not supremely philosophical these days. "It was really hard for me, initially, to accept the fact that my career was over a little earlier than I wanted it to be. It took me a little extra time to wrap my mind around starting the next step of my life."
"I might not have been very happy with the game, at that time, but I knew that I still loved the game itself," he said. "I love the strategy involved, love the way a coach can inspire players to something that they didn't even know they had in themselves, to be more successful than they ever believed they could be."
A veteran of just four NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rivers credits his father for the perspective that he now enjoys. "As a parent, he was very reserved. He liked to watch the games alone, let me experience things for myself, and was always there to listen, when I was having issues."
"But he was really good at keeping me humble," Gunner continued. "For the most part, he really let me discover myself as a person. Hockey is not always fair, and it's not always a reflection of your work ethic. You just want to be ready when you get that tap on the shoulder. Unfortunately, it never happened for me, but I think I learned a lot of good stuff along the way."
Having assisted his uncle at skill development camps in St Louis in various summers over the years, Rivers was thrilled to be asked to join former Sudbury Wolves captain Michael MacDonald on the staff of a young SMHA AAA team last year. He believes that he has something to offer, having learned from the family and all of their coaching connections.
"The number one thing now is open dialogue," he stated. "Old school coaching is coming to a close. Players have to be able to ask questions, and you have to be able to have those conversations with them and not feel that they are challenging your judgment. They just want to understand what you're thinking."
And as he now spreads his wings even more in the hockey industry, there is no more logical place for Gunner Rivers to be building a foundation.
"They (Shawn and Jamie) had so much fun in Sudbury," he said. "They loved playing in front of these fans. The winters are rough, I tell people, but it's the most beautiful place in the world in the summers. If you like being outdoors and being active and just enjoying nature, this is one of the most ideal places that you can be."
Spoken like a proud member of the Rivers hockey family clan.