When Eleanor Commodore was asked to describe what it's like being a hockey mom, she thought about her answer carefully.
She figured her response would be short and sweet. By the time she was done reminiscing, the tale was long enough to share. That's why she accepted the chance to tell people about her journey.
As the mom of Calgary Flames defenceman Mike Commodore - he of the bright red afro hairstyle and fuzzy beard - Eleanor was asked to give a talk about the joys and sorrows of being a hockey mom in front of the Women at Centre Ice.
"I couldn't imagine why they were asking me. One of their previous speakers was Hayley Wickenheiser and I told them 'I'm not Hayley Wickenheiser,' " laughed Commodore, principal at Bev Facey high school in Sherwood Park. "I thought back to what it was like raising Mike and at first I thought it would take about two minutes and I'd have nothing more to say. But by the end of it, I thought 'what the heck.' "
And a speech was born.
Sure, there were stinky hockey bags, bake sales, skate swaps and concession duties along the way - standard hockey mom stuff. But there's much more to it.
"Some people have the image of a hockey mom as some screaming, yelling lunatic in the stands. I wasn't one of those but I did have pretty strong feelings on how I wanted to raise my kids," Eleanor explained.
STAY AT HOME
Anyone familiar with Mike in those days was well aware of those feelings, and the Kelowna Rockets found out first-hand when they selected Mike in the WHL bantam draft.
Eleanor put her son's education at the top of the priority list and pretty much told the Rockets to go launch themselves after they called his name. He was advised to stay at home, get his high-school diploma and then try for an NCAA scholarship.
"Mike was a big kid who didn't mind the rough stuff, but I feared they were going to make him into a goon and I didn't want him to earn a living that way," said Eleanor.
"Plus, he needed an education."
Just as Mike's talents were being recognized, so too were the difficulties of being an up-and-coming hockey talent in a small community like Fort Saskatchewan - when you're about to enter high school and your mom is the one cracking the whip.
HOCKEY CAME SECOND
"In many ways it was tough on him," recalled Eleanor. "He knew his education was important and that hockey came second and we took a firm stand with him."
Home was finally put in the rear-view mirror when Mike accepted an offer from the University of North Dakota. NHL scouts were soon making the rounds.
It's all panned out pretty well.
At six foot four and 230 pounds, Commodore was chosen in the second round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils.
Commodore scored a goal in the 2000 NCAA championship final, helping UND knock off Boston College, and he was named to the all-championship tournament team. After three seasons in North Dakota, Commodore made the jump to the pros. By 2002 he'd been traded to Anaheim and a few months later to the Flames.
Commodore had to grind it out in the minors for nearly four years before he got his big break - spot duty for the Flames during the 2004 Stanley Cup final run.
He was a physical presence on the ice and one of the most popular Flames off it, thanks in large part to his super-sized flaming mop top.
Likenesses of the scorched 'do were everywhere, even on Don Cherry's dome.
"We were out for dinner when he got a call on his cell about them wanting to sell those things. If I'd have known then what I know now, I'd have told him to make sure he got some of the money from the sales," Eleanor chuckled.
It still made for a pretty good story. And a good speech for his mom seven months later.