As a genetic counselor, I have always been fascinated with twins. When I meet twins, I love to talk to them and find out how similar and dissimilar they are. In the case of identical twins, I simply marvel at nature and how something so unique can happen. With fraternal twins, they are no different than siblings genetically, but I am amazed to sense the bond they share whether identical or fraternal.
I am also a huge hockey fan. I love the Montreal Canadiens and the fascination with this sport stems from pure skill on ice. I am a big fan of players from the Nordics. My two all-time favorite players are Finnish (Temmu Selanne and Saku Koivu), I think Swedish hockey players have a calmness that make them great leaders (Nicklas Lidstron, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson, Borje Salming, Markus Naslund, Peter Forsberg).
When two baby faced twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin were drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 1999 in a crafty draft maneuver to keep the skilled twins on the same team, I wondered if this was hype or reality. Daniel was drafted second and Henrik third. Naturally, Daniel wore the number 22 and Henrik 33. My fascination and curiosity began. How would the identical twins do? Would they be truly identical on the ice? Genetics and biology had just met hockey. What would happen? Scientifically, identical twins (monozygotic) develop from one zygote, which splits and forms two embryos. Monozygotic twins occur in births for 3 in every 1000 deliveries globally. Monozygotic twins are always of the same sex and are genetically very similar as the two embryos are the result of a single egg and sperm. However, genetically, they are not exactly the same owing to single nucleotide polymorphisms as well as epigenetic modifications which can be caused by environmental factors.
Seventeen years into their NHL career, I have more questions than answers. Some mindboggling facts:
- Henrik and Daniel have played nearly the same amount of games (1329 and 1305 respectively after seventeen NHL seasons).
- They have nearly the same number of points (1070 and 1041 respectively)
- They are the only sibling pair in the NHL to have scored more than 1000 points each as well doing so for the same organization
- Daniel was the scorer and Henrik the passer. 744 times the twins were involved in the same goal. It was uncanny, Henrik passed, Daniel scored. Yet the more curious point was one had more goals and the other more assists, but their points totals was almost the same. It was like they knew where each exactly was. Their long time ex- teammate Alex Burrows said “they don’t really talk on the ice. Its only sounds, and it sounds like dolphins”.
Fittingly, in the last home game on Canucks ice, Daniel scored twice, assisted by you guessed it…Henrik. It gets more interesting. The first goal scored by Daniel was scored at .33 seconds into the second period. The overtime winner scored by Daniel? At 2.33 into overtime. Coincidence given Henrik’s number is 33?
I am intrigued by how a set of identical twins born six minutes apart make it to the NHL, get drafted one after the other, and pretty much play the same number of games and score the same number of points after seventeen years, and yet do so by one scoring and the other assisting on each other’s goals. Were there some epigenetic changes that rendered one to have more skill passing and the other more skill shooting? Were there polymorphisms in their DNA that gave each complementary skills? Did their DNA similarity give them that innate ability of “nearly” being the same and instinctively finding each other on the ice? Were how they were raised in Sweden part of the reason? We will never know. These amazing twins story culminated on April 7th when the Sedin twins played their final game.
Apart from delighting hockey fans with stunning chemistry on the ice, I am especially grateful for following this amazing pair of twins where genetics, biology and hockey all collided for seventeen years. There may never be such a pair again but we can dream.