DES MOINES -- Nate Prosser's career in pro hockey has been anything but easy. The definition of perseverance and sheer effort, Prosser has carved out an impressive -- and perhaps a bit unexpected -- life in the sport.
He's never been the fastest player, the most-skilled player or even the most talented player on any of his pro teams. But you won't find a better teammate or human being. It's what has made him invaluable to the Wild, both at the NHL and AHL levels, during his career.
In the decade since turning pro following a standout run at Colorado College, the Elk River native has been in and out of the lineup and has been signed by a different team twice only to be claimed back by the Wild both times shortly thereafter. This season, he was sent down to the American Hockey League for the first time in eight years.
But that grind is nothing compared to what he's experienced over the past six weeks, trying to manage his life at home some 250 miles north, all while serving as an invaluable leader for the Iowa Wild, a team playing in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The thing one has to know about Prosser is just how committed to his family he is.
A proud DOOD (dad of only daughters), Prosser and his wife, Brittani, will welcome girl No. 4 to the troop on Saturday when Brittani is induced.
"I'm trying to take it day-by-by. Obviously, she's stressed. I'm losing sleep over it, she's stressing out over it," Prosser said. "It's just a hard time to be away from your wife and kids because of how far along in the pregnancy she is. But we're trying to make the best of it."
The family has been mostly apart since the beginning of February. Prosser played in 15 games with Minnesota over the first four months of the season but was placed on waivers in early February.
Unclaimed by the NHL's 30 other teams, he was assigned Feb. 4 to Iowa, where he has been a fixture in the lineup down the stretch.
The first couple of months, Brittani and the girls -- six-year-old Emeri, five-year-old Willa and two-year-old Alba -- would make the four-hour drive from the family's home in Plymouth every weekend the Iowa Wild was in Des Moines.
But as Brittani's due date has drawn closer, the trips to Iowa have become fewer and farther between. When she and Nate welcome Leni Mae Prosser to the world on Saturday afternoon, it will be the first time Nate will see his wife and girls in person in six weeks.
"Technology helps. I think I FaceTime them two or three times every day," Prosser said. "But it's hard at night when they say that they miss me and ask when I'm coming home. But this is where we're at; there's not much I can do about it. I just try to make the most of it."
Prosser drove home immediately following Iowa's Game 5 loss to Chicago on Friday night and said he planned on waking his girls up as soon as he got there.
Plenty of hugs are sure to follow, and Prosser admitted he's expecting it will be a very emotional reunion.
"I'm really looking forward to this weekend," Prosser said. "There's always a lot of tears with me and my wife after the baby is born, looking at each other and knowing that we created this baby with God's help. We're excited for another girl. We've almost got a whole line of hockey girls."
With Nate in Iowa, family has played a critical role in keeping things on track back at home base. Both his parents and Brittani's live nearby in Maple Grove, and Prosser was quick to credit them for helping bring some level of routine.
"We've surrounded ourselves with our families there on the west side, and that's what we've always wanted to do," Prosser said. "Being close to family, the grandparents, cousins ... just trying to keep some normalcy in their lives because my life isn't very normal right now. I'm away from my family for a month at a time or two months at a time, and that's just not normal."
With Iowa trailing the best-of-seven series against the Wolves by a 3-2 margin and the series shifting to the Windy City next week, Prosser's time at home will be short. He'll be on a plane to Chicago on Monday morning and he will be in the lineup later that night as Iowa tries to even the series in an effort to force a decisive Game 7, which would also take place in Chicago.
The team's success so far this postseason has flooded Prosser's mind of memories from the Calder Cup run he was a part of with the Houston Aeros in 2011. Featuring future Wild players like Prosser, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, and a host of others -- and coached by future Minnesota head man Mike Yeo -- that team reached the Calder Cup Finals before losing to the Binghamton Senators.
Video: Iowa: Prosser embraces leadership role
"It's fun making this run. I remember making this run down in Houston and telling these guys, 'It's the most fun you're ever going to have in your careers is if we can make a run here,'" Prosser said. "Going on that run down in Houston were some of the best times of our lives."
The hope is that this postseason run continues for a few more weeks before Prosser said he'll take some time and evaluate just how draining this stretch has been.
Whatever conclusions he comes to about the future, he'll do it with his family back by his side.
"When I look back at this summer when the season is over and the playoffs are over, and I'm able to kind of digest everything that happened, I'll look back as this has definitely been the hardest time for me in my career," Prosser said. "But they always say the hardest part isn't about getting to the NHL, it's staying there. That was holding true in my career and all I wanted to do was stay there as long as I could. And I did a pretty good job at that.
"Who knows if it's over? I don't really know that yet; we'll see what summer brings. But I still feel good, I still feel good about my game and I just want to keep playing hard."
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