Despite growing up with an NHL father, playing hockey was never a serious consideration for Isabella and Ava Therien.
And, for a while, it didn’t look like basketball was, either.
“So, growing up, my mom would actually have to force me to go to basketball camps when I was little. When I say force, she actually had to tell me to get out of the car,” said Isabella, now a junior forward on the women’s basketball team at Loyola. Her younger sister, Ava, is a freshman on the team.
“I would be sobbing. I would want no part of going into camps and clinics. In fact, I quit basketball when I was in third grade. I hung up the jersey.”
Isabella, 21, is the oldest child of Chris and Diana Therien. Chris played 12 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars before retiring in 2006. He now works as a studio analyst on Flyers television broadcasts for NBC Sports Philadelphia.
“It’s a funny story looking back on it,” Isabella continued. “I always had a competitive nature, and, in those camps and clinics, all we do is drills and shooting. There was no competitive aspect to it for me at that age.”
After hitting a growth spurt in middle school, Isabella was coaxed back into playing basketball, and that opened her eyes to her potential.
“It was like ‘The Natural,’ like she was born to have a basketball in her hands,” Chris said. “She could dribble. She could run. She could shoot. She could hit the 3-pointer. She was just like a beast out there.”
That paved the way for Isabella to land a Division I scholarship at Loyola and for Ava, 19, to follow in her footsteps.
“I hated going to camps and clinics by myself when I was younger,” Ava said. “So, it was always comforting for me when I would be on the same team with her, as a younger sister and trying to learn the ropes from her.”
When Ava came down with the flu recently, Isabella was there to help take care of her.
“She is like my mom here [at Loyola],” Ava said. “So, it’s been great, not only in the basketball aspect, but having her here to look after me is better than basketball itself.”
The feeling has been mutual. Ava helps keeps Isabella’s spirits lifted while she misses much of a second consecutive season with a broken leg.
After missing about half of last season with a fractured right femur, Isabella played all of 22 minutes this season during the course of two games before suffering the same injury again. She will redshirt this season to retain a season of eligibility.
“I haven’t had the best of luck,” Isabella said. “But my team has been really supportive of me and helped me get through this, especially from a mental aspect.”
The 5-foot-10 Ava, meanwhile, is playing about 16 minutes per game as a freshman guard for the Greyhounds. As of Feb. 14, she’s made one start and is averaging 5.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.
Asked if she ever considered following in her father’s footsteps and playing hockey, Ava said, “I know I would not be very good at it.”
The 6-foot-1 Isabella thinks she could hold her own on the ice because “I like to hit people.” But handling the puck would be a different story, she said.
The only times the Marlton, N.J., natives played hockey growing up were when the neighborhood ponds would freeze over in South Jersey, and they would get out there with their friends.
The Therien girls preferred playing soccer, lacrosse and basketball. The access to play hockey as young girls was not as easy, and they didn’t see a future for themselves in the sport.
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t benefit off of their father’s name.
“I had a friend that would always ask for my dad’s hockey cards. So, I figured I’d hand a bunch of them out to people and charge them a couple of bucks,” said Isabella, a finance major.
“I’d be like, ‘Dad, can you sign these cards?” And he’d have no idea what they were for. So, there I was in second or third grade, selling my dad’s cards at recess for $2 apiece. It’s funny when I think about it now. That may have been illegal. I am not even sure.”
The perspective and guidance Chris provided his daughters as they pursued their own avenues in athletics was even more valuable.
“Having that, having him on our side, giving us what he knows with his knowledge and experience, even though we are playing [different] sports, it helps tremendously,” Isabella said. “I don’t think we would be where we are today without the knowledge and drive that he has.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Loyola Athletics