James Wisniewski and wife Nicole welcomed their second child, Sadie Rose, earlier this month.
Building a hockey team and raising a child have their similarities: both processes take a lot of time, patience, effort, organization and financial support.
There are good days and bad days, but at the end of each day, it’s the love that a fan has for a team or a parent has for their child that keeps them anxiously waiting for either to grow into something special.
The same can be said about becoming a parent and becoming an NHL star: no two are alike and the path to becoming extraordinary at either position requires growth and dedication. NineBlue Jackets players are currently walking down both paths, learning how to tackle the peaks and valleys along the way.
Mark Letestu, a seventh-year pro and seasoned veteran on a young Jackets club, became a father three years ago when he and wife Brett welcomed their first son, Caleb. Two years later, the Letestus added another son when Dylan George was born.
“You’re basically scared out of your mind,” Letestu said about adjusting to life as a father.
Like many soon-to-be fathers, Letestu heard the horror stories of sleepless nights and never-ending stress. He listened to the experiences of his peers, but admitted there's little that anyone can say to fully or truly prepare someone to become a parent.
“There is never a dull moment,” Letestu said. “It seems like now, it’s starting to get hard now that they repeat what you say and do what you do. You always have to keep yourself on guard.”
Letestu said becoming a father has been the most special role in his life, and he would advise any expecting fathers to enter the process without expectations.
Teammate and new father Brandon Dubinsky did just that.
Brady Charles Dubinsky was born Dec. 4, 2013, one day after Columbus’ 1-0 home win over Tampa Bay. A first-time parent with wife, Brenna, Dubinsky approached fatherhood with an open mind but knew he had some valuable resources within the locker room that could help him in his major life transition.
“It’s crazy how much you love and want to care for somebody that you really just met,” Dubinsky said with a small grin on his face. “You go in there and you do whatever it takes to make things work.”
Since becoming fathers, supporting and spending time with family has vaulted to the front of Letestu and Dubinsky’s priority lists. However, the schedule of a professional athlete is anything but the standard 9-to-5 grind.
Though both players are grateful to their spouses, Dubinsky admitted that not being able to see his son is one of the most difficult parts of any road trip.
“It’s tough being away from your kids and I don’t think you don’t fully understand until you have your own kids,” Dubinsky said. “You certainly get a whole new appreciation for (your family) when you finally get home.”
“You spend a lot of time trying to catch up on some of the parenting stuff that you missed out on,” Letestu said.
The offseason is in full swing, but in two months, NHL training camps will resume across North America and preparations for another long, trying season will begin. Hockey players and their families go through a schedule of at least 90 games - sometimes longer including the playoffs - and time management becomes a round-the-clock affair.
The ups and downs of the season set in almost immediately and leaving emotions on the ice becomes troublesome, but necessary.
The minute any NHL father takes off the skates and returns home, he isn't known as the guy who scored the game-winning goal or the goaltender who was pulled in the second period -- they’re just “Dad.”
“Hockey, for me, could last just a couple of more years -- family is important,” Letestu said. “Because at the end of the day, (family) is what is going to last forever.”