There's a time in many hockey moms' lives when they know, just know-maybe even before the son or daughter is fully aware-the sport is forming a self-identity in the child that will last a lifetime. Linda Humphrey sensed it early in her son Todd's childhood, then collected plenty of physical evidence to support her heartfelt case.
"There were broken windows and a basement full of puck marks," says Linda, a single mom who raised two sons in Oakville, a town on Lake Ontario outside Toronto. A white freezer in the basement was practically black from thousands upon thousands of shots off the sticks of Todd and his brother Mark. Oh, and don't forget the smell of all that hockey equipment stored in the basement, says Linda.
"Todd was really passionate and so excited about hockey," recalls Linda. "He was tall, that helped his cause. But what set him apart is he would spend his whole summer working out and preparing for the next season. He didn't have much of a social life at times, even at university, because he was always working at getting better in hockey."
"My mom always encouraged me and made it possible--time-wise and financially-to play hockey, enjoy it and perform at the highest level," says Humphrey, NHL Seattle's senior vice president of digital and fan experience, who played college hockey at the University of Western Ontario and several seasons in the pro leagues, ECHL and Continental Hockey League.
Let's agree Humphrey was a physical left wing in those pro days, which included one year for the Flint Generals during which he notched 35 goals, 35 assists and 357 penalty minutes in 61 games. "My mom is a two-time cancer survivor," says Humphrey, "tougher than any guy I ever fought, for sure."
Linda Humphrey moved to Oakville when she was 14 and still lives there, rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs and, "with the greatest joy," the teams of her nearby grandsons, Blake, 12, and Tyler, 10. She loved hockey before becoming a mother, but the affection deepened with every car ride to the local rink or road trips to other rinks and tournaments.
"There was no GPS, no cell phones back then," says Linda, laughing. "We got lost a few times, but we spent a lot of time together. I enjoyed it so much. We watched NHL games at night, counseling sessions included when needed. Other kids would just shrug off a loss, but Todd would be devastated that he didn't play well enough to help his team win."
Linda Humphrey had one ironclad rule that formed her son's future career as both hockey player and tech executive: "If you don't get high marks in school, you couldn't play hockey. Todd would be in our dining room slugging over the books pretty hard, but he was inspired. Wayne Gretzky was his world back then."
The fondness for hockey moms runs through every NHL Seattle staffer who played the sport. I give a special nod to Mrs. Vogel, who drove me to early morning practices and numerous road games because my mother, remarkably, never held a driver's license in her 92 years on Earth. My dear mom did deftly handle the impromptu counseling sessions after losses. Mrs. Vogel would laugh some mornings at 4:35 a.m. pickup when I was asleep at the sidewalk laying on top of my duffel bag of goalie equipment (I set my alarm to get outside the house early to make sure she and my teammate Randy didn't have to wait one single second on me).
In honor of hockey moms everywhere, here are the "I love you, Mom" letters from members of the NHL Seattle family talking about their mothers:
Ron Francis, General Manager: "My dad was a steelworker who worked shift work at the local Algoma Steel plant. He rotated weekly hours from 7-3, 3-11 and the dreaded night shift, 11-7. My brother had a learning issue and for a significant part of his childhood he struggled with seizures. And yet, I never missed a hockey practice, never missed a hockey game and never missed a hockey tournament, which at a minimum were at least two-plus hours away from my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Thanks, Mom, for all you did and more importantly for who you are! Happy Mother's Day. We love you."
Ricky Olczyk, Assistant General Manager: "We lived in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Our team had a game up north, approximately a 50-minute car drive and requiring a portion of the trip on the Illinois toll road. As we proceeded on the highway, our car had mechanical issues. We were forced to pull over to the side of the road. We were miles from the closest exit. Remember, it was the 1980s so no access to cell phones! No panic but an easy, calm presence displayed by my mother. We had left early, so 'Mrs. O' figured other players and their families on the team would be driving by at some point. She instructed me to get my hockey bag out of the trunk and place it on the roof of the car to be seen from cars zooming by on the highway. I did so. Then, about 15 to 20 minutes later, as fortune would have it, a teammate of mine and his mother spotted the bag, noticed the colors and team name, and stopped. Amazing!!!!!! My mother explained the situation. I grabbed my gear and jumped in the car with my teammate and proceeded to the game. Mrs. O stayed behind with the car, awaiting assistance. That is ingenuity and sacrifice indeed! Side note: We won the game, 4-3, and yours truly had a goal and two assists…
I am truly blessed and so very thankful to call Mrs. O, 'Mom.' And although many in society refer to this second Sunday in May as "Mother's Day" and I can never repay her for everything she has done and continues to do, I try and honor my mom EVERY single day!!! ALL mothers earn that respect and recognition every day."
Cammi Granato, Pro Scout: "When I became a mom, I wrote my mother a really long Mother's Day note. Riley was one year old. I got to thinking. My mom had five kids in six-and-a-half years, I was the youngest of the five. Our little brother, the sixth child, came about 10 years later. I never once remember my mom as mad or losing her cool. ... She was OK with a daughter who wanted to be like her brothers and play hockey. She got pressure from friends about letting her daughter play a men's game. It's a really special quality in mothers who don't want to change you and see the person that your child wants to become. For me, I wanted to dress in t-shirt and jeans like my brothers. I wanted haircuts just like them. I was the only girl in the state [Illinois] playing on boys team at my level at the time. My mom tried to get me to wear dresses, it didn't work [laughs over the phone]. But she was totally a hockey mom, managing to get us to four different rinks where my brothers and I played."
Kendall Tyson, vice president of strategy and analytics: "Being a hockey mom never stops! In graduate school, I played on the club hockey team and every year the Club hosts the Garstka Cup, first-year students vs. second-year students. In my second year, my mom traveled from Minneapolis to New Haven, CT, just to see me play in this club hockey game. Even at 30 years old, it brought a smile to my face to see her in the stands. Thanks mom, for being in the stands from my first game to my last. Happy Mother's Day!"
Kyle Boyd, Director, Youth and Community Development (and Kendall Tyson's brother): Being a hockey mom starts from the first skating lesson. I remember from the very beginning my mom coming to each rink completely bundled in a bright winter coat. She learned from the very beginning which rinks were the coldest and where she would need an extra blanket to cheer us on. In the end, we knew she would always be there for us. Happy Mother's Day!"
Dave Hunter, Pro Scout: "The two hockey 'moms' that stand out in my life are my mother, Anne and my wife Nancy. We immigrated to Canada from Scotland when I was very young so I did not have parents that had any experience with hockey. My mother did not miss many, if any, of my games during minor hockey through to college [Cornell] and was so supportive throughout. The lake-effect snow on the drive from the family home in Ontario to Ithaca, NY, can be pretty brutal. I recall a couple of times there was not a chance they were going to make the game, but sure enough they left work earlier and made it for the 7 p.m. start. I met my wife, Nancy, at Cornell. She was much more of a football fan than hockey but through the years Nancy has been there to support me from my playing days to coaching to scouting. She has been a great hockey mom to our son, Cole, and would always have positive comments for Cole after games for him-not necessarily for his coach, that would be me! It took a while but Nancy has converted from a football fan to a diehard hockey fan."