For the first time in his young N.H.L. career, Taylor Leier made the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-night roster. His parents, Tim and Cindy, shared in his triumph by making the trip from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to watch him play early-season games in Anaheim and Los Angeles last month.
Leier’s brother, Keaton, could not make the trip to Southern California. He was instead enjoying a career milestone of his own. A first-year company dancer with the Atlanta Ballet, Keaton Leier, 21, had already been training 10 hours a day, five days a week, for more than a month by the time his older brother reported to the Flyers’ training camp in September. Keaton’s training regimen impresses his hockey-playing brother, who was selected by Philadelphia in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
“You should see him: He can do the splits up the wall,” Taylor Leier, 23, said. “That’s how strong he is in his lower body.”
After he performed with the second company at the Houston Ballet last year, Keaton Leier’s move to Atlanta is a major promotion. The months of training leading up to the company’s first performance in December have not gone unnoticed by Taylor, who is hoping for a breakout season in the N.H.L.
“Their schedule is pretty grueling,” said Taylor Leier, who had played 16 N.H.L. games entering this season. “They train very hard and I respect them a lot and how hard they work. They’re going the whole day.”
Playing hockey was a natural pursuit for the elder Leier brother growing up in Saskatchewan surrounded by family members involved in the sport. Tim Leier coached Taylor’s youth team while numerous uncles and cousins also played hockey. Keaton Leier’s decision as a child not to pursue hockey was a departure — even before he dedicated himself to ballet.
“From a really young age, I always kind of had the mind-set of just doing my own thing even though everybody else was really into hockey,” he said. “My family especially is very hockey heavy. Ever since I was little, especially when I was younger, my dad really encouraged me to play. I liked it, but I never really loved it. I was just influenced by what I wanted.”
Taylor’s hockey and Keaton’s dancing made for a hectic home life, an endless effort to deliver the two boys to games, tournaments, practices and recitals. On one particularly hectic day, Cindy Leier said she attended a dance competition with Keaton in Edmonton, Alberta, before having to rush back home to Saskatoon, a drive of more than 300 miles, to attend Taylor’s hockey awards banquet.
During the long drive home, she received word that Keaton had received the competition’s top accolade, an honor that included a trip to a Los Angeles dance studio.
“Honestly, I look back at our life sometimes and it just feels like a blur,” Cindy Leier said. “It goes by so fast and they were so busy all the time.”
Despite their divergent paths, the brothers remained close. When Taylor left home at 17 to play junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks in Oregon, he was unknowingly establishing a precedent for his brother, who at 17 left home to train at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.
The parallels between the brothers’ endeavors were quickly appreciated by their mother.
“They experience the same emotions: the mental challenge of what they are both doing and also the physical challenge,” she said. “Sometimes with the mental challenge I’ll say to Keaton: ‘Why don’t you call your brother? He’s been through this. Even though he’s doing something completely opposite of what you’re doing, he’ll understand what you’re going through right now.’ That has been helpful for Keaton.”
Those conversations proved invaluable for the brothers whenever they encountered inevitable career disappointments, whether it was being assigned to the Flyers’ minor league affiliate or being relegated to the second company at the Houston Ballet. But the benefits of having a brother at the highest level of his chosen field do not end there.
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The brothers also occasionally work out together, although their areas of concentration in the gym often contrast drastically. When Taylor encounters the occasional tweaks and pulls that come over the course of a lengthy hockey season, it helps to have a brother capable of resting his legs at a 180-degree angle.
“I know sometimes he’ll text me and say: ‘My hip is really bothering me. Do you know any stretches or exercises I can use to fix it?’ Usually I can give him some sort of help,” Keaton said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
With his parents looking forward to their next opportunity to watch Taylor play for the Flyers, Keaton has been busy earmarking dates to go to Philadelphia and watch his older brother play. But it is not easy. His arduous schedule with the Atlanta Ballet will continue through December, when the company begins performing “The Nutcracker.”
Afforded a holiday break by the N.H.L. schedule, Taylor will be there with his parents to watch his brother perform.
“We’ve been working and we’ve been grinding,” he said. “Our family has a lot of versatility and our parents get to experience two different professions, which is pretty cool.”