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Inside Scoop: Penguins' Hockey Moms Share Stories

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

In honor of Mother's Day, we talked to some of the women who not only raised great hockey players for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but wonderful young men as well. 

Sally Guentzel, Betsy Rust, Deb Dumoulin and Jen Marino were gracious enough to share some their favorite stories and memories involving their sons from over the years.

SALLY GUENTZEL

After their two sons Ryan and Gabe got a little older, Mike and Sally Guentzel decided to have one more child in hopes of having a daughter. While that didn't end up happening, they felt fortunate to be blessed with a healthy baby boy. Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the NHL's elite goal scorers.

After Mike had spent two seasons as head coach and general manager of the USHL's Omaha Lancers, he took a job as an assistant coach with his alma mater - the University of Minnesota -

in the fall of 1994 while Sally remained in Nebraska with Ryan and Gabe for the school year. 

She went into labor with Jake on a Wednesday, with Mike flying in that night in time for the birth in the early morning hours of Thursday, Oct. 6. Mike returned to Minnesota that Friday, and on Saturday, Sally's mom picked her and Jake up from the hospital.

"I went to the rink that day with Jake because Ryan and Gabe were skating in a clinic," Sally recalled. "So he was literally two days old, and he was at the rink."

From there, the first few months of Jake's life were pretty hectic as Sally juggled caring for an infant while toting 8-year-old Ryan and 6-year-old Gabe to their various activities. 

"I had really good neighbors, and they actually ended up becoming Jake's godparents," Sally said. "Thank God for them, because they were there for me whenever I needed somebody so that I could run around with the other two boys, and they would take Jake. The hockey community is so willing to step up and help." 

Though a lot of times, Jake just came along. And he couldn't follow his brothers onto the ice fast enough, starting to skate when he was just a couple years old. 

"He wanted to do it right away," Sally said. "He was the one that was always rollerblading, and he could ride a bike without a training wheels when he was 2. He just picked up on everything because he had the older brothers and he wanted to do exactly what they did."

From there, Jake became the ultimate rink rat growing up in Woodbury, Minnesota, which is a suburb of the Twin Cities. 

The Guentzel family lived about five minutes away from the closest arena, and since they were so close, Sally would drop Jake off right after school. He would be there for hours, with Sally bringing sub sandwiches at dinnertime, and sulk when it was time to leave because he was never ready to go.  

"He just loved it," she said.

What stands out the most to Sally when she thinks back on that time is the bond that her and Jake developed with the older boys off doing their thing and Mike busy coaching, including three years away from 2008-11 at Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers.

"It's all the memories," she said. "You know, it was him and I for many years, because Mike wasn't even living with us for three years during Jake's Bantam years and I think first year of high school. And granted, he couldn't travel with Jake every weekend when he did go on the roads or whatever."

Now, what makes Sally proudest is how Jake carries himself.

"He's always striving to be better," said Sally, who tries to watch all of Jake's games, even when she's selling pull tabs on Tuesday and Thursday nights for the Woodbury Hockey Association.

"They don't have the (NHL Center Ice) package this year with COVID and everything, but when it's on that game they put it on for me," she said. "Or I have my iPad and I have it there, so I usually don't miss too much (laughs)."

BETSY RUST

Betsy Rust's initial reaction to her sons Matt and Bryan - who are three years apart - getting into hockey while growing up in the suburbs of Detroit was one of dismay, thinking about the early mornings, busy weekends and expensive nature of the sport. But once they got involved, they made incredible friendships, and it became such a big part of their lives.

"So I really embraced hockey from the standpoint that we spent a lot of time with our kids with all the weekend tournaments," Betsy said. "It was fun times in the car, fun times in hotels and making good friends. I knew that was going to be a good benefit from hockey."

There are so many fond memories from those days, and one that still makes Betsy smile is thinking about Bryan's short-lived stint between the pipes when he was around 11 years old.

"It was kind of crazy because he had already played hockey for quite when he did his spring season stint for the Honeybaked club as goalie," Betsy said. "But it finally cured Bryan of wanting to be a goalie because he had always talked about it. Then he was like, okay, I put that behind me now, I'm not so good at being a goalie."

But Bryan certainly was good at being a forward, and Betsy just hoped that he would someday be able to utilize that ability for a college scholarship, which he did at Notre Dame. And while it did occasionally cross her mind that he might be able to play professionally, it wasn't something they were counting on.

"You're just grateful that this activity has been so fun for your son and for your whole family," Betsy said. "Then when it turned into wow, this is actually a career that's going to pay some bills here, it was amazing (laughs)."

It was a long road to where he is today, and now, what makes Betsy proudest is how Bryan handled some of the adversity he's faced along the way. She said things didn't always come easily for Bryan, particularly during a rough couple years with the Fighting Irish, but she has always appreciated how he really took coaching and feedback to heart.

And even now, a few years into his NHL career, Bryan has earned emphatic praise from head coach Mike Sullivan for getting himself to the level he is at right now.

"When I look back on my experiences, I can't think of another guy that has developed his game as much as Rusty has," Sullivan said. "I couldn't be happier for him or more proud of him. I just think he's really turned himself into a real impact player. I can't say enough about Rusty and what he brings to this team and the person that he is. He's a terrific person. He's a great teammate. But he is one hell of a hockey player." 

Betsy also respects Bryan's work ethic, saying her son has a healthy perspective on where he is today. He realizes that it is combination of that own work ethic, along with being lucky and blessed, that things have worked out.

"There's a lot of people who work very hard and are very talented, but it doesn't align for them," she said. "So he's always kept a certain levelheadedness, and I think as a result, he shares his success. He likes doing things for the public and for the fans, because he's very appreciative. I'm just so proud of him for that, that he truly recognizes that living the life he does is a gift that very few people get."

DEB DUMOULIN

Deb Dumoulin is a registered nurse and dietitian, and one summer, she went to California for a nutrition conference. She ended up going rollerblading for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, when she returned home to Maine, her sons John and Brian each got a pair. 

"Those two just were beating on each other constantly because they're 18 months apart," she said with a laugh. "I just needed something to make them tired." 

John, who was 4, and Brian, who was 3, began playing hockey in the driveway - and from there, the rest was history.

"When he started, I had no idea what I was getting into," Deb said. "When I became a hockey mom, little did I know it'd be my most prized profession as well as being a registered nurse and dietitian."

When John and Brian's sister Katherine followed her older brothers into hockey, the Dumoulins' calendar snowballed into what Deb called "organized chaos." 

So when Deb would think about their schedule and everything that needed to get done, she would get out a broom and start sweeping. Unbeknownst to Deb, she passed that on to Brian, who now does the exact same thing - saying it soothes him.  

"Apparently, he likes to clean now. But he did not like to clean when he was in my house, that's for sure," laughed Deb, who bought her grandson Brayden a broom and dustpan set for Easter.

Deb cherishes all of the memories from those years, particularly the ones they created as a family. However, there is one that is particularly special to Deb. It happened when she took Brian to a tournament in Niagara Falls when he was around 9 or 10. 

"We had some downtime, so a bunch of us went up to the Hockey Hall of Fame," she said. "At that point in my life, I didn't really know too much about hockey, and I never thought about Brian ever playing professionally. But I got to go through the Hockey Hall of Fame, watching him and his eyes and seeing the Stanley Cup for the first time. 

"So when he won the Stanley Cup in San Jose and I was there, and got to watch him hold it up and see it for the first time, I could see that little boy with the sparkling eyes that just ran through the Hockey Hall of Fame, he was so excited. I mean, I was just so choked up because it just brought me back to that little boy that just loved hockey, and I had no idea that he would ever be holding the thing."

Now that Brian is in the NHL, Deb watches every single game that he plays, partly out of a sense of duty. Since it's not just hockey players who are superstitious - hockey moms are superstitious, too. 

"If I don't, he gets hurt," she said. "Honestly, it's like this jinx. I really feel like being a hockey mom now, you still feel every hit they take. Every time they get hurt, it's like a piece of you. Like when Brian broke his jaw (in 2016)…it still takes a piece of your heart. You still want to take the pain for them."

After undergoing surgery to repair lacerated tendons in his left ankle in December 2019, Brian then suffered a lower-body injury in January and missed 15 games. It's been a challenging couple of seasons for him on the injury front, but Brian said what helped him get through it was just staying positive and trying to look on the bright side of things. That optimistic outlook towards everything is one of the things that makes Deb so proud of her son. 

She is also thrilled that Brian eventually got his degree from Boston College after leaving school early to turn professional, and that he has so many other interests outside of hockey - like music (he's the team DJ), travel, food and wine. 

"I'm not worried about the day that hockey will end for him, because he's got so many passions and dreams, and that's all you want for your child," Deb said. "You want them to be doing what they love, and he loves what he's doing right now. But he's really evolved into finding some other passions."

And whenever the day comes that Brian does hang up the skates, Deb has a new phrase ready to go if Brayden steps into them someday. 

"I'm going to be a hockey mimi versus a hockey mom," Deb laughed.

JEN MARINO

John Marino was fortunate to play on some good travel teams over the years growing up in North Easton, Mass. And when his mom Jen would watch him play, some nights her competitiveness would get the best of her. It led to a conversation with John when he got a little older that brought her to tears.

"I just need you to be there for me when I need a mom," John told her. "I don't need another coach. I don't need someone to push me anymore or point out when I make a mistake. I just need to know that when I need you, you're going to be there."

From there, Jen made a conscious decision that she wouldn't bring up hockey with him unless he wanted to talk about it. 

"If he wants to, I'm happy to talk, but I won't ask him," she said. "If anything, I just may ask something like, is everything going good, or are you feeling okay? But honestly, this team of guys - I never expected that these players who are so talented are also so down to earth. And they are. They've been so good to him that there hasn't been there hasn't been a need for me to worry about that piece of it."

John's whole current situation is just so surreal to Jen. Like many hockey moms, Jen's biggest hope for her son was that he could eventually get an education out of hockey. So when both twins were both able to go to Harvard, that meant everything to her. She was worried about John leaving school after his junior year, but he was adamant that it was the right decision. 

When he made his NHL debut last season, it was just so surreal for Jen. And when he started playing regularly - well, she still finds herself at a loss for words about it.

"I know that there were many times during his hockey career that he felt like he could do it, but he wasn't sure," she said. "And it was a struggle for him to think about, what would my life look like if hockey wasn't part of it? So from that perspective, there are days where I can't even think about it and just can't believe he's living this way. To think my son is that successful and that happy…I mean honestly, at the end of the day, for me it's about whether he is happy. And this was him being able to achieve the biggest dream he's ever had his whole life. It's amazing."

For more from Jen after John's 100th game, click here to read the feature.

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