Determining whether to feel sorry for Kamloops siblings Johnny and Katie Ludvig this Christmas seems, on the surface, a no-brainer task.
Parents Jan and Charell, who moved to the Czech Republic three years ago to be with aging family, will not be home for the holidays.
Facetiming with mom and dad will have to suffice, as will what promises to be an average-at-best re-creation of holiday feasts (Katie is not bullish on Johnny’s work in the kitchen) once shared as a complete, tight-knit unit at the secluded Ludvig home.
But take heed of this tale before you go shedding tears for 19-year-old Johnny, an NHL-drafted member of the Portland Winterhawks, and 20-year-old Katie, who belongs to a TRU WolfPack volleyball team enjoying a program-best season.
“I have a funny story,” said Katie, who was en route home from Saskatchewan with WolfPack teammates, on a layover in Calgary, when she spoke to KTW.
“In high school, our dad woke us up on Christmas morning at like four in the morning to do a training circuit outside. We’re like, ‘There is no way we’re doing this on Christmas morning.’ He was like, ‘You want to be good? This is what you’ve got to do.'”
Out into the cold they went with dad, a former NHLer-turned-part-time-drill-sergeant, to their desolate, backyard motocross track in the Lac Le Jeune boonies, wearing weighted vests, to flip tires and do step-ups on tree stumps.
“We trusted him a lot with his advice, knowing how much experience he had,” said Katie, who was in Grade 9 when Jan conducted Christmas morning basic training. “He was the only person in our lives who had made it to the level we were both trying to get to.
“We bought in and it’s part of the reason why we’re playing at a high level today.”
Added Johnny: “He sort of guided me along this route and taught me everything I know, and my mom, she was also an athlete in high school, so both of them had a lot of knowledge they passed over to us.”
They love their parents and they are going to miss them on Dec. 25.
But they can sleep in this Christmas morning and there will be no yuletide boot camp — have less pity for them.
Feel comfort in knowing Johnny and Katie will be together.
That is a priceless gift.
They skated together as soon as they could walk. They played on the same hockey team from the ages of about six to 12.
“At one point, in our testing, I was a faster backward skater than him and I will never let him live that down,” Katie said.
They took ballet and wrestling classes together. They were — and still are — fiercely competitive.
“I would say it’s gotten more to the point where we’re definitely a lot more supportive of each other and push each other in a more productive way than when we were younger,” Katie said.
They were still in high school when their parents moved to Europe, left to be each others’ caretakers, friends and confidantes.
“It was definitely a hard adjustment at first,” said 5-foot-9 Katie, a third-year WolfPack libero. “We are a very close family. I think it kind of forced us to be independent and step up and take some responsibility.”
The super siblings videoconference after hockey games and volleyball matches. Jan, now a scout for the Boston Bruins, and Charell are always in on the conversation.
Johnny pays attention to WolfPack social media. Katie catches Winterhawks’ highlights.
When Johnny was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2019, Katie gave her employer, Kamloops Florist, a bouquet of reasons to prune her from the bunch.
“It was actually insane,” Katie said. “I was helping a customer. I refreshed the screen, saw his name pop up in the third round and I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.’
“I dropped everything and went to the back and called him. We were both tearing up a little bit. It was a really special moment. I’ve been there to witness all the hard work he’s put in. I was so proud of him.”
Johnny remembers it well.
“That was one of the best days of my life,” said Johnny, who was born in Liberec, Czech Republic, but was a baby when Jan and Charell moved to Kamloops.
Nothing in hockey has come easy for the 6-foot-1, 205-pound blue liner, a Kamloops Minor Hockey Association product who toiled for the major midget Thompson Blazers and junior B Kamloops Storm and was never drafted into the WHL.
Johnny was left off of the Team WHL roster for the 2019 CIBC Canada-Russia showcase series, the most-recent slight in a long series of snubs.
“I’ve always kind of been passed over for things like that,” Johnny said. “I try not to let it get to me and I just use it as motivation.”
And what about the Kamloops media? Has he been underappreciated?
“I’ve never really had a way in with the system,” said Johnny, the Winterhawks’ top-scoring defenceman, with 25 points, including 11 goals, in 29 games. “I don’t really pay too much attention to it and don’t lose any sleep over it.”
Portland sits tied atop the U.S. Division with the Everett Silvertips.
“I want to, first of all, win a championship here in Portland,” said Johnny, who is tied for fifth among defencemen in WHL scoring.
“That’s my main focus. Every year, I’m going to try and make the pros when I go to the training camps in Florida.”
Elementary school classmates who might have teased Johnny for his involvement in ballet may not want to dance with him now.
He fights — and he brawls with the toughest, including Kamloops Blazers’ D-man Montana Onyebuchi.
“That was our parents’ philosophy behind it — it would help with his quick feet,” Katie said.
“I do recall him running around in a tutu.”
The Winterhawks’ D-man and Onyebuchi dropped the gloves most recently on Nov. 29, while Katie and the WolfPack were squaring off against the Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon.
“My mom filmed it for me, but she closes her eyes when she films it, so it’s all shaky,” Katie said. “It definitely scares me a little bit, but my competitive side comes out for him and I feel like I’m fighting the other person through him.
“I’m like, ‘Go Johnny! Get him! Left, left! Right!”
WHL and Canada West schedulers were cruel to the Ludvigs this season.
While Katie was busy killing that layover in Calgary, Johnny and the Winterhawks were playing the second game of a back-to-back set against the Blazers in Kamloops, the night after the Onyebuchi-Ludvig tilt. They won’t return to the Tournament Capital during this regular season.
“I actually started crying when I saw the schedule,” Katie said. “We take every opportunity we can to see each other. I was even trying to see if I could get on an earlier flight to make it to his game. We’re going to have to deal with things like that.”
They will see each other soon. Johnny will return to Kamloops after the Winterhawks’ final game before the WHL holiday break, against visiting Seattle on Dec. 15.
But it might not seem entirely like coming home.
Katie lives with WolfPack teammates Abby Spratt and Avery Pottle, and former TRU outside hitter Mikayla Funk. Johnny will make Roomie No. 5.
“They’ve definitely become a second family for me,” Katie said. “We do spend a lot of time with each other. They have taken into consideration how hard it can be sometimes. It makes it a little less lonely.
“It’s the weirdest thing ever being in your hometown and not having your family.”
Katie qualified that statement by noting her grandparents, Daryl and Judy Douglas, are fixtures at WolfPack home games, her “biggest and only fans,” she said with a laugh.
Two half-brothers, one of whom lives in Pinantan, and a half-sister who lives in Sun Peaks, are also part of the Ludvig clan.
“We’re super close with them. They try their best to make it to our games when they have an opportunity and we’ll get together in the holiday,” Katie said.
Katie and the Pack are easy to cheer for this season, third in Canada West standings with a record of 9-3 and eighth in current U Sports top 10 rankings.
The club had never been nationally ranked prior to this season.
The Ludvigs moved into town from Lac Le Jeune to be close to the Kamloops Tennis Centre, where Katie was focused on forehands and backhands until her Grade 10 year, when it became clear bumping and setting were more her thing.
In 2015, she helped the Sa-Hali Sabres claim their first-ever AAA provincial girls’ volleyball title. Katie signed with the WolfPack in 2016.
The call of the wild was too much for Jan and Charell, who purchased another rural property in Lac Le Jeune, just off the highway on the way to Logan Lake — on Ludvig Road.
That is where the family gathers in the summers, when mom and dad return home from Europe, on land which presents more unique training opportunities.
Mandatory boot camps are but a small price to pay for the cure to fellowship famine.
John and Katie will get through the holiday by doing what they always do — sticking together.
“That’s part of the reason we’ve become so close,” Katie said. “Our parents leaving kind of forced us to take care of one another.“