It has been said before that behind every great man there is a great woman. Jackie Kennedy, Princess Diana and Eleanor Roosevelt have been some of the greatest women in history who would have been relatively nameless if not for their famous husbands.
In the hockey world, and with professional sports in general, similar roles are played by the players’ wives -- but perhaps with far less fame, glory and credit.
Jaclyn Quick, Nicole Brown, and Karine Gagne may not be names you’ll find on stat sheets, in history books, or on record labels, but they’re certainly super stars in their own right. Running a household and raising children is a difficult task for anyone, but charged with the challenge of doing it alone for one-third of the year, dealing with crazy team schedules, living in relative uncertainty of the future, sacrificing family and personal comfort and still finding the time and sanity to give back to an adopted community makes it seem almost impossible…until you meet these amazing ladies.
The travel schedule is undoubtedly the most taxing part of life for the wife of a professional athlete. The NHL is in season for more than nine months each year, every team is on the road half of the time, and teams in the West have a more extensive travel plan simply because of the greater distance between teams. The fact that the Kings opened their season in Europe this year after an exhibition season which ended on the road meant the players were in three different countries in almost as many weeks.
This leaves the Kings’ wives alone for much of the time to keep life as normal as possible for themselves as well as their families.
“You’re pretty much a single parent during hockey season, and there are birthdays and holidays and huge milestones like baby’s first steps that your husband misses out on,” says Nicole, wife of captain/right wing Dustin Brown
Goaltender Jonathan Quick
and his wife, Jaclyn, have a 19-month old daughter, Madison, who is learning technology at an early age by using video chatting to stay in touch with her dad while he is on the road.
“For a while last year she thought the computer was him,” says Jaclyn, who will take Madison home to Connecticut if the team is on the road longer than seven days.
The wives and girlfriends spend much of their time together when the Kings are away, as they are each other’s support system. If there is a game, everyone goes to one person’s house to watch and order food, which allows the kids to play together.
“During the season you just get into a routine, and you have 20 other girls who are going through the same thing, so we are definitely not alone,” says Nicole, who met Dustin at a hockey tournament when both were 15 years old.
Even when the Kings have a stretch of home games, there are still sacrifices and adjustments that must be made in order to accommodate the players’ intricate schedules.
Game days in the Quick household are stressful for Jaclyn, who, as the chef in the family, needs to know what Jonathan wants for dinner the night before, and whether he will need a pre-game meal or if he plans to go out with teammates. Madison has also adjusted to her father’s schedule, as she naps during his pre-game naps, and has learned that if Daddy’s door is closed, she cannot disturb.
The Browns, who have three sons – Jake, 3; Mason, 2; and Cooper, six months – had to adjust their sleeping arrangement when Cooper was born at the end of last season just before the playoffs started.
“I had to move into the guest bedroom with the baby so that Dustin could sleep through the night and not be woken up,” says Nicole. “It was hard not having help in those first few months.”
Unlike Jaclyn and Nicole, whose husbands have spent their entire NHL careers with the Kings, Karine and her husband, left wing Simon Gagne
, moved their family to Los Angeles this past summer after spending only one season in Tampa Bay. The couple, parents to Matthew, 2, and Lily-Rose, eight months, visited Southern California during the summer and found a new house in Manhattan Beach where they now live.
“I knew we had to move again and it’s hard when you get used to a place, but we’re happy about this new challenge in LA,” says Karine, who met Simon in high school. “It’s easier considering my kids are not going to school, but still it’s a lot of organization.”
Hailing from Quebec City, Karine admits that her biggest fear as a newcomer is that her family is so far away, and with Simon on the road, should something happen to her, she doesn’t know who would take care of her children. This is a heart-wrenching reality for all of the women who have had to take their families to foreign cities on a whim and with little support.
Whereas Simon signed with the Kings during the off-season, some players are traded mid-season and without warning, which is even worse for their wives, who are left to pack and move everything as the player reports immediately to the new city.
“It’s not like I would have Dustin’s help if he were to get traded mid-season,” says Nicole. “I hope that we never have to experience it, but at the same time, this is the life I signed up for when I married Dustin.”
In general, being the wife of a public figure comes with trials and tribulations, as the family is constantly in the public spotlight, and privacy is not always easy to maintain. Jaclyn recalls a bad incident that occurred with one of her husband’s fans.
“One of his fans kept hacking into my Facebook account and was communicating with my friends and family as me,” says Jaclyn. “I don’t have Facebook anymore because of it.”
In general, Jaclyn, Nicole and Karine agree that fans have been very supportive of their husbands, and the interaction that the ladies have had with fans has largely been positive.
“Last summer I went to see sick kids at the hospital with Simon and a kid said: ‘It was the best day of my life,’” says Karine.
This made an impact on Karine, and it is this type of reward that inspires many of the wives to give back and become involved in charity work year-round. Adopting families at Christmas, building playgrounds, and fundraising for various causes are just a few things on a long list of community-related initiatives that the wives find time to volunteer for.
One cause that has become near and dear to hockey wives around the world this season is fundraising for the families of those lost in the plane crash that killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team in early September.
“This is one of the biggest fears for every wife of a professional athlete. When the guys aren’t home on time that’s where my mind immediately goes,” says Nicole. “I cannot imagine what those families are going through, to lose their husbands, fathers, sons in such a tragic way.”
Kodette LaBarbara, wife of former Kings goaltender, Jason LaBarbara, came up with the idea of selling memorial bracelets as a way to raise money for the grieving families. Now, wives from every NHL team, some AHL teams, and many elite leagues around the world have come together to sell the bracelets in their home arenas.
“We wanted these families to know that we are thinking about them and that we are here for them,” says Nicole. “The hockey world is very small and we are all connected.”
These remarkable women may do most of their work behind the scenes, but it is clear that their duties require a great deal of strength, patience, understanding, and mental toughness. For Jaclyn, Nicole, Karine and the rest of their Los Angeles hockey sisters, the glass slipper definitely fits.
The wives and girlfriends of the Los Angeles Kings players will be selling red silicone “Love for Lokomotiv” remembrance bracelets featuring the Kings logo for $10 at the Kings Care table near section 103 at STAPLES Center through the month of October.
All proceeds from the sales will go to Love for Lokomotiv, a fundraising campaign founded by NHL wives to support the families and children of the members of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) club who were killed in a plane crash on September 7.
If you are unable to purchase a bracelet at STAPLES Center, please visit the online auction section of lakings.com to buy yours today. For additional information on Love for Lokomotiv, visit http://www.loveforlokomotiv.com/
.“We want to show the hockey world that the Kings and their fans are here to support this cause.”