by Josh Sweatband, OHL.

A small town approximately 30 minutes west of Belleville, Subban was headed to Brighton to speak with students on the importance of never giving up as they strive to fulfill their potential.

“Funny you call right now,” he said as he answered with a chuckle from behind the wheel, hands-free of course. “This is the highway of dreams. Every time I went to Belleville that’s what it was all about, the place my boys were putting in the work to fulfill their dreams.”

The Subban family trilogy of P.K., Malcolm and Jordan in Belleville is one of many OHL stories that could be told in February as the worldwide spotlight shines on Black History Month. Several other players of colour including Darnell Nurse, Devante Smith-PellyWayne Simmonds, Joel Ward, Trevor Daley, Justin Bailey, Kevin Weekes, Fred Brathwaite, brothers Anthony and Chris Stewart as well as the late Ray Emery are just a few of the prominent names to have come through the league before going on to accomplish big things in carving their paths to the NHL.

For the Subban family patriarch, the OHL journey with his boys began with a leap of faith.

“Maria and I were so apprehensive at first,” he said as he recalled the early days of P.K.’s time in Belleville. “We didn’t know what we were getting into and it was like a step of faith.

“I always use one of Martin Luther King’s quotes that faith is taking the first step, even though you don’t see the staircase,” he added. “We were really fortunate that our boys had a great group of people supporting and guiding them including George Burnett and his staff, their billets the McMillan family as well as the entire Belleville community that was always very supportive.”

P.K. blazed a trail for his younger brothers in Belleville, joining the Bulls as one of the club’s four sixth round picks in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection. He quickly developed into one of the league’s premier offensive blueliners, winning back-to-back World Junior gold medals, guiding the Bulls to a Memorial Cup appearance in 2008 before earning OHL First Team All-Star recognition in 2009.

“P.K. has always had a big personality,” said former Belleville Bulls head coach and GM George Burnett who holds a similar position with the Guelph Storm today. “He met every challenge with tremendous commitment and work and you never questioned how hard he competed.

“People look at P.K. as an offensive guy and he was, but he also took a lot of pride in playing the game the right way defensively too and I think that aspect of his game only got better as his time in Belleville progressed.”

P.K.’s NHL legacy has been impressive both on and off the ice. Now a 29-year-old with the Nashville Predators, the top point-producing defenceman in Belleville Bulls history has gone on to win a Norris Trophy in 2013, an Olympic gold medal in 2014 and led numerous charitable initiatives off the ice.

Four years younger, Malcolm landed in Belleville as an 11th round pick in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection. After guiding the Mississauga Reps Midget AAA team to an appearance in the 2010 Telus Cup Final, he made the full-time jump to the OHL out of training camp the following September.

The second Subban boy went on to represent Canada at the World Juniors in 2014, the same year he led the OHL in goals-against average (2.14) and save percentage (.934) to be named a Third Team All-Star.

“We actually had Malcolm pegged to go to our Tier II affiliate in Wellington but he played so well that we had to make room for him,” recalled Burnett. “He’s got a goaltender’s demeanour and doesn’t usually have much to say, but he’s a great example of a guy who wasn’t in too much of a hurry and went through the development process with a lot of hard work along the way. He came in as an 11th round pick and went out as a first round NHL pick.”

The Boston Bruins chose Malcolm Subban 24th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. After four years in the Bruins organization he joined the Vegas Golden Knights where he plays alongside veteran Marc-Andre Fleury with the Golden Knights today.

By the time the third Subban brother came of age there were no more surprises. An OHL Cup champion with the Toronto Marlboros, Jordan was the fifth overall pick of the 2011 OHL Priority Selection and stepped into the lineup against players four and five years his senior.

“There was definitely more pressure on Jordan as a young player,” acknowledged Burnett. “Inevitably being a defenceman like his older brother there were going to be comparisons. Once he got his feet under him I think he took some positive steps and by the time he graduated he was a real presence.”

Jordan wrapped up his time in Belleville as the franchise’s leading goal scorer among defencemen, lighting the lamp a club record 25 times by a blueliner in 2014-15. He was a fourth round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2013 and currently patrols the blue line with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

After 10 years of racking up the kilometres making trips to Belleville, Karl Subban looks back on it all with a certain fondness as he acknowledges the special bond his family will always have with ‘The Friendly City.’

“You know the African proverb it takes a city to raise a child? Well, we learned it takes a city to raise a professional hockey player,” he laughed. “From day one I wanted the people in Belleville not to just see my sons as black hockey players, but to ultimately see them as hard working young men with potential. Young men working toward their dreams.

“People went above and beyond for my kids in that city,” he added. “Their time in the OHL gave them every opportunity to fulfill their potential and that’s a big reason for why they’re all having the success they are today.”