Hockey players, and professional athletes across the board, are, for the most part, compensated handsomely for performing their craft. This leads to the assumption that athletes, and those on skates in this instance, are all vain, pretentious, carefree snobs living on cloud 649.
I witnessed first hand Monday night that perception and reality can differ a great deal.
Jeff Vinnick had a brief photo shoot set up with Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler in their hotel room in Denver, he wanted to capture them being as natural as possible, just two guys hanging out, no equipment, no expectations, no pressure.
I tagged along in case anything story worthy came up, and both Vinnick and I got much more than we bargained for. I half expected Hamhuis and Edler, controllers in hand, to be battling it out in stealthy warfare, confidential operations, and volatile conflicts across the globe or, feet up to promote maximum relaxation, watching Leonardo DiCaprio perfect the art of extraction to swipe precious secrets from within the subconscious.
We knock on the door and Hamhuis springs to greet us and as we walk into the room, serenity is present. The TV is on, hockey highlights of course, but the volume is minimal; all you can hear is “who’s there daddy?”
Turns out our visit coincides with a webcam chat Hamhuis is having with his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Anna, while Edler is elsewhere. The screen is grainy and with the Internet connection not the strongest, her voice cuts in and out making it difficult to talk at times. His wife Sarah and 11-month-old daughter Morgan are on the chat as well allowing the Hamhuis family to catch up after a frantic few days for the Canucks.
Surprisingly enough, the topic at hand is hockey and Anna knows her stuff.
“You went to the naughty box last game daddy,” says Anna, alluding to the penalty Hamhuis took for tripping Eric Nystrom a night earlier in Minnesota.
“Yeah, daddy did sweetie,” he replies.
“But you’re not supposed to hit people,” Anna pokes back, before Sarah jumps in with “daddy will learn one of these days.”
Everyone shares a laugh, including Vinnick and I. It was a heartwarming family moment and the best family time Hamhuis has had during this five-game, 10-day road trip.
Jobs aside, these guys are just guys, they aren’t too different from you or I. They love their families and a lot of their time on the road is consumed with staying connected to the people who matter most. Webcams have made that easier and in certain situations, they can be a lifesaver.
That became as apparent to me as ever last Friday when my eight-month-old son Denver crawled for the first time. Although upset I missed being there, I thank my lucky stars it’s not 1911 and I was able to see it at all.
Hamhuis tries to catch up with his family as much as possible on webcam and has been doing so since representing Team Canada at the 2009 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland, but it’s tough at times throughout the season because of Vancouver’s hectic road schedule.
Travelling is part of the gig and Hamhuis and all the Canucks knew what they were signing up for from day one. That doesn’t mean it’s not tough, especially with a fair number of players also being fathers.
Dad and daughter talk for another five minutes or so before Edler returns from a trip to the hot tub, bringing guests with him. Daniel and Henrik Sedin stop by to say hi to Anna, her face lighting up the Macbook from 1,779 kilometres away.
“Can you tell us apart?” asks Daniel, to which Anna shakes her head from side to side. The entire National Hockey League can’t tell the Sedins apart, so Anna is forgiven for not knowing.
The Sedins leave and Hamhuis resumes talking to Anna, who is now holding Morgan under the watchful eye of mom, but dad is put on hold when Anna sees Edler plunk down on his bed, laptop in hand, Bose headphones around his neck.
“Hi Mr. Alex!” she says, grinning. Edler waves and says hi, smiling.
Not wanting to be overly intrusive, Vinnick and I finish our assignments; pictures are taken and details noted. We leave the room as Edler flips his headphones on to watch a movie and Hamhuis begins saying good night to his family.
The perception is Kobe beef with a side of caviar, Dolce & Gabbana pajamas and jesters brought in to entertain.
The reality is a choppy webcam chat with loved ones, a quick dip in the hot tub and a movie served up on laptop.
The NHL lifestyle isn’t all luxury.