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Trades put players' wives to the test

by Staff
Listening to Susan Ashton, you get the impression that there's a book in her somewhere.

Given that her husband Brent was traded eight times in his 14-year NHL career, you know she could write the definitive guide for hockey wives on how to deal with having your life turned upside down thanks to a phone call.

"It can be stressful, dealing with everything," Susan Ashton replies when it's suggested that hockey wives are the unsung heroes of the NHL's trading marketplace. She obviously speaks from experience.

Brent Ashton started his career in Vancouver in 1979 and was sent to Winnipeg in 1981, and the Jets sent him to Colorado on the same day. He transferred to New Jersey when Colorado relocated in 1982 and the Devils traded him to Minnesota in 1983. He was dealt to Quebec in 1984 and the Nordiques dispatched him to Detroit in 1987. The Red Wings, in turn, sent him back to Winnipeg in 1988 and the Jets shipped him to Boston in 1991.

The last time he was traded was in 1993 when the Bruins dealt him to Calgary.

"Once I was traded on the road and I never made it home to get clothes," says Brent, who has unpacked his well-traveled suitcase and now calls Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) home where he runs Brent Ashton Sportswear.

"I remember going to the rink one time with Keith Acton and there were reports on the radio that someone (from his club) was going to be traded. By the time we got to the rink that someone was me."

While Brent headed off to the friendly confines of his new NHL dressing room, Susan was often left behind on her own to deal with the mechanics of the transaction.

"There was no help," she says.

Susan was the one who said goodbye to her friends, sold the home, found a moving company, had the mail redirected, found a new place to live, got the phone hooked up and set up shop in a new city, where she started all over again. She didn't have a dressing room to offer shelter from the storm.

"It wasn't easy," says Brent about what his wife had to juggle.  "As players, we have the dressing room. What do the wives have? They were left on their own."

Of all the moves she's been through, Susan says the one time she was close to the edge emotionally was in 1991. She recalls being at the Winnipeg airport on her way to Boston with a lot on her plate.

"I had a 6-month-old, a 2 1/2-year-old and I had a dog, which was running around the airport, and I had our luggage," she says. "It was left up to me to move. But what could I do? What was the alternative? But I didn't cry. We were fortunate because our kids were not in school."

But if there's a positive to take from the life of a nomad. Susan says the life skills she learned during those years still serve her well.

"I'm sure that's why I'm an organized person," she says. "I'm the type of person who gets things done."

"But we've lived in some great places," adds Susan. "Quebec was great. Boston was great. I got to meet a lot of great people. You have to look at the upsides."

Much has changed since Brent Ashton kept a packed suitcase close to the door, and NHL teams are more on the ball when it comes to helping a players' significant other deal with the stresses of being traded during the season. Now, the wives are not abandoned for a minute.

Forward Tom Fitzgerald also was traded during his career. He turned pro with the New York Islanders and was taken in the expansion draft by the Florida Panthers in 1993. He was dealt to Colorado from the Panthers in March 1998, and then was selected by the Nashville Predators in the 1998 expansion draft. After more than four seasons with the Predators, Fitzgerald was traded to Chicago at the 2002 trade deadline. He then signed with the Maple Leafs as a free agent and finished his playing career in Boston. Today, he is an assistant coach with the Penguins.

Fitzgerald says the teams he joined were very accommodating with his wife.

"Anything we needed was there," he says. "Teams now are more accommodating. But I don't know if people realize how stressful being traded can be. When you're traded, sometimes you are leaving your wife behind and your kids behind because you don't want to pull them out of school. You're leaving friends and things that you've established. You head out and your wife has to carry on."

"I can't imagine what my wife went through at times," says Ashton, who had seven 20-goal seasons, but missed the hallowed 1,000-game mark by exactly two games.

"That's the one thing I regret, not hitting 1,000 games," he continues.

Maybe Brent Ashton would have achieved that milestone had he been traded a 10th time. A knee injury suffered in the minor leagues ended his career in 1993.

"You know, it's not so bad," he says about being dealt time and time again. "At least you're going to a team that thinks you can help them. Somebody wants you."
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