Home Family I was a hockey wife – and it just about killed me

I was a hockey wife – and it just about killed me

I was a hockey wife – and it just about killed me

It was a year that just about killed me. It was the year I moved not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. I didn’t just move within my city. Or province. Or time zone. Or country. I moved to places I had never been to before. To places I had no interest in moving to, or even visiting. And I did so on short notice. I had no say in the matter. I was a hockey wife — and it just about killed me.

For a spell, I was married to NHL veteran Kirk McLean. He was a lovely guy who had a long and stable career as a net-minder. He’d proposed, I’d said yes, but within the week he’d been traded. I’d presumed that life would have continued as the courtship had: a predictable program of practices, games and road trips with the team for which he’d become a marquee player. I was wrong. I learned that life in the NHL is like being in a faulty witness protection program. I learned what NHL really stands for: No Home Life.

And so it came to pass that we moved to a rental in Florida, then bought a house, then sold that house, then returned to Vancouver where we were renovating a house, then headed off to New York to look for a house, then buying a house after determining that apartment life in Manhattan was an adjustment we didn’t want to make. All this took place within 11 months. I was still settling the loss and damage claims from the first move while we were embarking on the third move. And the losses and damages were astonishing. On the New York move, the movers misplaced all our possessions. Everything. For a month. In the interim, we ordered mattresses from 1-800-Mattress and used toilet paper rolls for pillows, believing that our stuff would arrive any day.

This was the year that I had 12 different phone numbers with three different area codes. There was the home phone; his and her cellphones and the phone at the official home address back in Vancouver. Each time we moved, we needed all new numbers. I’d go slack-jawed and blank when asked for our phone number: “Five, no six, oh, no, one, fourrrrr … ah, no make that two …” Strangers have a very high opinion of you when you can’t remember your phone number.

You found schools and doctors for the kids. Your hockey-playing husband headed off into the routine he’d been immersed in since peewee hockey. Most team rosters are populated with personnel the player has been acquainted with since he was 13 so anywhere he goes is sort of “old home” week. The wife, however, is pretty much left to fend for herself. Arenas have a social suite that is usually called the Wives’ Room. Depending on the composition of the team, spouses may, or may not, find like-minded acquaintances. If it’s a veteran team, chances are there’ll be lots of moms and kids; if it’s a greener team, many of the players will be unmarried. The wives are sort of set adrift. The team will usually host a few wives events but those infrequent formalities tend to be tense affairs, an interface with the spouses of management, ownership and support staff. I got on well with this group as I was closer in age to more of them than the player’s wives, but I was counselled that this was a divide not to be bridged. The Collective Agreement stood in the way of any fraternizing. I defaulted to having vaguely inappropriate conversations with check-out clerks and making friends with the personal shopping staff at Saks. It was lonely. And expensive.

Eventually you make some friends, on and off the team. But there’s always the sense of impermanence. Even the home you create feels temporary. The joke was that you never bought drapes; drapes were the harbinger of a trade. Home was always somewhere else; your current arrangement was simply provisional.

As a general rule, the wives were all gorgeous. Some of the marriages were hollow commodity exchanges: good looks traded for prestige and vice versa. The money was terrific, but it had to last a lifetime. At 25 it’s hard to imagine life without a bimonthly quarter million dollar paycheque, but the clever ones do. Some mishandled this windfall. But there were lots of clever ones and, oftentimes, it was the wives doing the math and keeping it real.

Because of the combustible combination of youth, celebrity and money, the wives and the players were subject to mountains of rumour and conjecture. The rumours were pernicious. Both sides have to deal with constant sexual solicitation. Unfortunately, when loneliness meets trophy hunting, trouble is never far behind.

What’s more, hockey can be terrifying. By the end of every game, my guy looked like he’d been beaten with a ball-peen hammer. It was tough being “on your game” every game. Even the thickest skins wore thin on occasion. Once, we were hosting a salmon bake-off at the house. My cousins were razzing Kirk that his entry was lame. He just laughed and said they’d have to do better than that; he was used to being called a bum by 20,000 people at a time.

But it eats at you. And the absences and dislocations and uncertainties eat at a family, to say nothing about the adjustments to an abrupt conclusion to a career. It’s a life that takes a toll. To this day, I get asked about a rumour involving infidelity with a man I’ve never met — Jeff Brown, for those of you who follow hockey lore. And to this day, people still want to ask me: “So what was it really like, being a hockey wife?”

by Jane Macdougall, former NHL wife; originally posted on NationalPost.com, 3/13/15


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