May 10, 2012
Team Canada's loved ones headed to Helsinki
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
HELSINKI - Jordan Eberle's mom and dad didn't watch him win Canada's player of the game honours Wednesday against Switzerland.
Instead of catching it on TV back home in Regina, they missed the game so they'd be able to watch the rest of the world championship in person.
Darren and Lisa Eberle, along with the parents of other players, brothers, aunts, uncles, wives and girlfriends, are scheduled to show up here the day before Canada's biggest game of the tournament, a showdown for first place in the Helsinki pool against undefeated and defending world champion Finland.
Because of the mass airlift of loved ones, Team Canada will have no practice Thursday, no media availabilities and will even be relocating to a different hotel as their party swells to more than 120 people.
It's a phenomenon which completely changes the culture around the hockey club, going from a tightly-knit, no-outsiders, team-building-and-bonding experience for two weeks to one big sort of Christmas or Thanksgiving get-together over the final 10 days.
Developed in the 1990s, it's become a big reason why players choose to come and play for Canada at the world hockey championship after a long, hard 82-game NHL schedule.
"Hockey Canada treats us first class and they take great care of looking after families, doing exceptional things to take care of them when we are over here," said Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Ladd, Team Canada's loved ones being airlifted to Helsinki who will be joined by wife Brandy.
"My brother Adam is coming. He's 23," said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. "He's the trainer of the Coquitlam Express junior hockey team. It's going to be his first time in Europe. He's really excited. It's going to be cool for him. Like me, he's going to get to be involved with some of these players we watched growing up."
Nugent-Hopkins' Edmonton Oilers teammate Devan Dubnyk will be joined by his fiance, Jen, whom he'll marry June 24 in Maui.
Patrick Sharp's wife is back home with their young child, so this year he's bringing his dad.
It's like that all the way through the lineup.
Teddy Purcell of the Tampa Bay Lightning and trainer Jeff Lang of the Oilers lead the team in number of people joining the group. Purcell is bringing his mom, dad, two kids and his wife; Lang has his mom, dad, sister, aunt and uncle all arriving Thursday.
The one player who doesn't have anybody coming over is captain Ryan Getzlaf.
"My wife was here with my son but she was sick. We have another child on the way so we decided it would be better to fly her home," he said.
Getzlaf said there aren't many wives coming this year.
"It's mostly dads who will be here. Adds pressure. Judges."
Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's VP of hockey operations and head of the delegation, said it's a major logistical undertaking, but it makes playing for Team Canada extra special. It manufactures a lot of memories.
"We ask professionals, guys who play the game for a living, to play for free, with Hockey Canada's share of the proceeds going back to minor hockey and our development programs," Pascall said. "We're asking a player to come for three weeks or more and we think it builds success for them to be able to share it with whoever the decide to bring over. We pay for one airfare, one hotel room and arrange for all sorts of meals and activities and hosting at the games for whoever they bring.
"It's a fun thing. The championship always seems to fall during Mother's Day. We have a big Mother's Day brunch with flowers for the moms who are here. Players talk about what their moms meant to them. That day can be pretty special.
"It can get to be pretty bizarre, too.
"One year I saw Mike Sillinger in the hall carrying a blanket to go to another player's room for his pregame nap. 'The dads are all playing cards in my room,' " he said.
Pascall brought his dad Bernie, who used to do the play-by-play of Canada Cups and world championships for CTV telecasts, to four of the world championships and wife Cassie Campbell to a few, too.
Coach Brent Sutter has his wife, Connie, and son, Merrick, who runs the business side of his Red Deer Rebels junior franchise, arriving.
It's not ideal for a coach getting his team ready for the big game.
"It might be a good thing the game is against Finland," he said. "We know they're the defending champions, that it'll be a game with a full crowd. And they'll all have special people in the stands to play for now."