Sean Dhooghe noticed the looks from other players at the San Jose Sharks’ development camp this summer.
Unless you’ve been 5-foot-3 in a locker room where everyone is taller than you, eight of them by a foot or more, maybe it’s hard to appreciate the feeling.
“They were probably wondering whose little brother I was or something,” said Dhooghe, the shortest player ever to appear on a University of Wisconsin men’s hockey roster.
Jason Dhooghe, who’s two years older and 4 inches taller than his brother, has heard it all, too.
“Just having people on the ice chirp you or other people not giving you the opportunity or the time of day just because they don’t think you can play because of your size,” he said.
The dimension Badgers coach Tony Granato was interested in with the freshman forwards wasn’t height. It was character, and while it’s tough to put a number on that, he said the Dhooghes have it in large measure.
What does that mean for the Badgers as the Dhooghes join six other new faces on the roster for the 2017-18 season? To Granato, it means they’re going to make their presence felt.
“I don’t think it took long for their teammates to see who they are and what they’re all about,” Granato said. “The first day in the gym, the first day on the ice, that’s all been positive.”
They join fellow forwards Tarek Baker and Linus Weissbach and defensemen Tyler Inamoto, Wyatt Kalynuk and Josh Ess as the incoming freshman class. Goaltender Kyle Hayton also is a newcomer after a graduate transfer from St. Lawrence.
On the ice, the Dhooghes will bring different attributes.
Sean, 18, played the past two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and developed a potent offensive game that was featured at the international level.
After splitting his senior year of high school between the North American Hockey League and the United States Hockey League, Jason, 20, spent the past two seasons honing a physical style in the latter with the Green Bay Gamblers.
Both have good speed but Sean said he likes to take more risks in jumping to plays than his brother. Jason said he likes to get involved with checks or blocked shots.
However it plays out, this season has deep meaning to the brothers because of the opportunity it affords them.
They’ve played together plenty of times on the driveway concrete or basement floor at home in Aurora, Illinois, but this is the first season where they’ve been on the same team.
“It’s really special,” Sean said. “Everyone we talked to that has a sibling in hockey has said, ‘I wish I got the opportunity to play with my brother in college.’ Even people that have done it have said as we were growing up, ‘You have to make it happen — there’s nothing else like it.’ ”
Said Jason: “We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”
Originally, the combination was scheduled to happen at Ohio State. Jason made a nonbinding oral commitment to the Buckeyes in the fall of 2013. Sean followed the next spring.
When the coaching change happened at UW in March 2016, the Dhooghes wanted to take a closer look at the Badgers. Don Granato was Sean’s coach at the NTDP before he joined his brother’s new Badgers staff.
It was a family decision to change commitments to UW, Sean said.
“It was a tough choice but it was something that we had to do,” he said. “It’s a business.”
Don Granato left UW in June to take an assistant coaching job with the Chicago Blackhawks. In an interesting twist for the Dhooghes, he was replaced by Mark Strobel, who was associate head coach at Ohio State.
Sean was hoping for a cool moment in June when the NHL draft was held in Chicago, not far from home. But while he was at the United Center both days to support former teammates who were selected, his name never got called.
That was a disappointment “for about 48 hours,” he said, before he turned to other opportunities. One was at USA Hockey’s summer camp to help select the team for the World Junior Championship.
At the draft, Sean talked with personnel from the Sharks who wanted him to take part in their development camp in July. That opening turned into one of the great images of the summer.
That questioning first glance from teammates transitioned into good relationships, and Sean won over more people with his nimble play in a scrimmage that was open to the public.
The crowd of about 3,000 people at one point chanted his name. At the end, teammates put him on their shoulders to carry him off the ice, a moment captured in a photo posted by the Sharks’ Twitter account.
“It was a great experience,” Sean said.
Sean won them over, and Tony Granato said both Dhooghe brothers will do the same at UW.
“It won’t take anybody long when they look out on the ice to see how hard they’re competing,” Granato said.