TAMPA — When Nelson Pyatt built his three sons a hockey rink in the back yard of their Thunder Bay, Ontario, home, he never envisioned two of them would follow in his NHL footsteps.
But it was on that 70 feet by 40 feet sheet of ice, surrounded by boards, where Lightning center Tom Pyatt learned the value of toughness and tenacity, helping make him the relentless third-liner and penalty killer he is today.
His older — and bigger — brothers, Jesse, 34, and Taylor, 31 (a Rangers forward), wouldn't give the tinier Tom, 25, much mercy.
"Kids can be cruel sometimes," Nelson said, laughing. "They'd stick the little guy in net and drill the frozen tennis balls at him. He'd come in with a bloody nose. … I'd have to settle him down. He was really competitive."
Tom and Taylor get to face one another on a much bigger stage Saturday when the Lightning hosts New York. They have played against each other once before — in 2010 when Tom was with Montreal — but the two meet three times in the next month. Nelson and his wife, Kathie, who never miss a game on TV, will be nervously watching.
"It'll be interesting," Tom said, smiling. "I was at (Taylor's) draft, only 10, 11 years old, and I watched him step into the NHL. It was pretty cool. My dad played in the '70s. Growing up with a dad that played in the NHL is pretty neat. Just being a hockey family is awesome."
Nelson, 59, appeared in 296 NHL games as a center for the Wings, Capitals and now-defunct Colorado Rockies, coached by Don Cherry, the colorful commentator for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s Hockey Night in Canada. But Nelson said Taylor (drafted eighth overall in 1999) and Tom (fourth round in 2005) have surpassed him as a player.
"They're a lot more defensively responsible," said Nelson, who is now a firefighter. "I was a decent skater, put up a few points, but their game is much more rounded than mine."
Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound left wing with seven double-digit-goal seasons, is more of a scorer than Tom. But Tom garnered some confidence in racking up a career-high 12 goals last season and was rewarded with a two-year, $1.2 million extension in January 2012.
"He's better every year," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "He's one of those relentless guys that really contributes to the culture of the team."
Boucher knew Tom from coaching him with AHL Hamilton in 2009, impressed with his work ethic and how extremely reliable he was defensively. He encouraged Tom to get more involved offensively, and the 5-11, 188-pound forward did just that by driving to the front of the crease.
"Pretty much every goal I've scored in the NHL has been around the net," Tom said. "I haven't gotten many fancy ones. But if you do it over and over again, you're going to get your goals. You may get lucky ones; they might just go off you when you don't even see it coming.
"But they don't really ask you how they went in after the season."
After the season, all three brothers reside in their hometown, where Tom bought a house on the lake. Jesse, who played hockey at the University of Guelph in Ontario before concussions ended his career, is working toward becoming a police officer. Three years ago, Jesse rebuilt the old backyard rink at their parents' home to rekindle some childhood memories.
"We had some good battles," Tom said, smiling. "Sometimes we'd get in some fake fights. But (Taylor) is so much bigger, his fake punches kind of hurt a little more. It was never too rough, just fun."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]