Last night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins, Canuck Raffi Torres, born in Canada to a Mexican father and a Peruvian mother, scored the game’s only goal with 18 seconds left to give his team a 1-0 edge in the series.
In a sport where Latinos are almost non-existant, seeing the name Torres as a game-winning Stanley Cup hero just proves that the NHL is and will be getting more diverse.
When Torres played for the Columbus BlueJackets, the Columbus Dispatch wrote a great piece about the Torres family. We are including it here. Who said the immigrant dream is dead? The Torres family proves the stereotype wrong.
Blue Jackets: Torres raised on love, hard work
Family’s support helped forward reach NHL despite financial hardship, bigotry
By Tom Reed
the columbus dispatch
Some days it takes considerable effort for Raffi Torres, the Blue Jackets’ wide-bodied left winger, to outwork his father.
Juan Manuel Torres is a 60-year-old diabetic with a bad knee and relentless desire to stay busy. He is a general contractor who feels more at ease with a paint brush in hand than a television remote.
“I’ll call my mom and he’s still not home at 8:30 at night,” Raffi said. “He can barely walk and he ices his knee more than I do. I’ll ask, ‘Where the heck is he?’ ”
Torres’ mother, Anna, 53, a personal trainer at a suburban Toronto health club, has her suspicions.
“He lives at the Home Depot,” Anna said. “I think he’s got different family down there.”
There is only one Torres family in the NHL, and their tale is both familiar and unique to the hockey world.
They are a hard-working, fun-loving, tequila-drinking clan that overcame tough financial times and racial prejudice to produce the NHL’s first player of Mexican and Peruvian descent.
“The NHL should do more to promote stories like these,” Blue Jackets center Michael Peca said. “It would help inspire kids of multinational backgrounds and let them know there is room for them in our game.”
Torres’ family has yet to make its first trip to Nationwide Arena, but the Canadian-born forward probably can hear his father’s voice in his head on game nights.
The 6-foot, 223-pounder is built and hard-wired just like his dad, who for years held down two jobs to support his wife and four sons.
“I don’t know how he made it to my games, but he was always there, really supportive,” said Raffi, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in an offseason trade for Gilbert Brule.
“I guess that’s where I get my work ethic, because if I was half dogging it, he would be yelling at me from halfway across the arena.”
Tough but fruitful journey
Growing up in Mexico, Juan Torres never dreamed of saving money to purchase ice skates and spending his free time in cold rinks. His sport was soccer, his idol was Pele and he didn’t know a hockey puck from a cow chip.
His family emigrated in the early 1970s to the Toronto area, where he met his future wife. Anna was born in Peru to parents of Serbian, Italian and Greek ancestry.
“I tell Raffi he’s like Heinz 57, he’s got so many ingredients running through him,” his mother said.
Torres, 27, is the third of four boys. He has fair skin and bright red hair. His mother told young Raffi she plucked him from an orange tree.
Classmates occasionally teased him for his appearance, but it was nothing compared with what awaited him at the rink. He was a tenacious player and a rising star at age 12. His ethnicity and family’s low income, however, made him a target for derision from some parents.
“I had someone once tell me that my son should be selling tacos,” Anna said.
Raffi recalls looking into the stands and seeing his father tackling another hockey dad because of racial taunts.
At age 13, Raffi was left off a roster for a showcase tournament in Quebec because other parents threatened to withhold their financial support for the trip.
“The only thing that stinks about the game is there’s so much politics at that level,” said Raffi, who never had an issue with fellow players. “I can actually remember saying I don’t want to play anymore, it’s not fun anymore.
“The names of the people are still in my mind. I still remember the people who made it difficult for my family.”
For 18 years, Juan worked at General Motors assembling and inspecting cars. To make sure his boys had a little extra, he also delivered the Toronto Sun to 93 stores and 180 coin boxes.
Nobody was sure if the family patriarch ever slept. He was fueled by coffee and ambition.
“I used to do miracles,” Juan said.
But in the mid-1990s, the GM plant closed and his newspaper enterprise went bust. Although Juan found work in construction, the family feared that their son’s budding hockey career would suffer.
A junior hockey coach told Juan about a financial assistance program through the Toronto Maple Leafs Foundation. The family qualified, and a 14-year-old
Raffi played one more season before getting drafted into the Ontario Hockey League.
Torres’ game accelerated in juniors, where he scored 78 goals in his first two seasons with Brampton. The New York Islanders selected Torres with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2000 draft.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Juan, whose son bought the family a four-bedroom house. “We felt like we were living the Canadian dream.”
Fan favorite already
Jackets fans already are starting to embrace Torres’ punishing style. After rehabbing knee and shoulder injuries, he registered an outrageous 10 hits in his Blue Jackets debut Nov. 1 and assisted on the winning goal against Edmonton on Wednesday.
Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said Torres can alter a game with a crushing check or a timely goal. Both men were part of the Oilers’ 2006 run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Naturally, the Torres family was along for the ride. Jackets faithful should know that Anna is no fan of the Detroit Red Wings. She sparred with Detroit supporters during the 2006 playoffs in Joe Louis Arena.
The Torres brood is large, boisterous and festive.
“We get the tequila out at Christmastime and enjoy it, that’s for sure,” Raffi said. “My mom can probably drink more than anybody.”
The family likes to laugh and can find humor even in sensitive topics. Raffi agreed to appear on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart last year to film a spoof on the perils of Mexican immigration in Canada. He was introduced as the most dangerous type of hockey player — Mexican.
His mom and dad loved it.
“(The show’s producers) cut out some parts of it because I was laughing so hard,” Raffi said.
Now living in central Ohio with his wife, Gianna, Torres is beginning a new chapter in his life and career.
His family has never been closer to the city in which he plays. He hopes his dad can take a break from work long enough to catch a game here soon. In case he gets homesick, Juan will be pleased to know there are 10 Home Depot locations in the Columbus area.