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Ryan Leslie sat down with Flames veteran Matt Stajan to talk about the importance of fatherhood and the memory and heartbreak of losing his newborn in 2014

by RYAN LESLIE @ryanleslie73 /

14 seasons in the NHL. Matt Stajan has just about seen it all -- on and off the ice -- playing in the hockey hotbeds of Toronto & Calgary.

He's one of the more likeable characters in the game and his teammates, media members and fans would agree. No. 18 always has time for everyone. 

But when I sat down for this week's installment of the Flames Up Close Podcast, I wanted to discuss something other than hockey. Because Stajan is so candid, so real, I wanted to get his thoughts on being a hockey dad. Fatherhood.

What it means to him and what kind of journey it's been for him and his family.

As many know, it started out with tragedy. It began with heartbreak and loss when he and his wife Katie lost their newborn son Emerson in 2014. A parents worst nightmare. As Stajan pointed out, a family never recovers yet somehow they have to move forward.

From a big goal in Edmonton where Stajan pointed to the heavens, to various fundraisers that honour Emerson's memory, to daily conversations with him, the Stajan's make sure their first born is not forgotten.

Parenting these days has a different meaning. Elliot Emerson Stajan is now almost two-years-old and is already a hockey nut. Dressed in Flames gear, fist-bumping dad through the glass during warm ups. There was a time when I overheard Matt talking with Elliot on the phone. A full on conversation in a full on adoring dad voice. Elliot was eight months old. Now, no matter where the Flames are, you can be sure "Face Time" is keeping them all in touch.

We think of hockey players are these tough warriors and sometimes forget that when they become parents, they turn to mush just like the rest of us. Even Stajan admits he's the softy in the household.

After 14 years in the fastest and toughest game around, Matt Stajan is a hockey player.

But make no mistake. He's a dad first. Above all else.

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