With hockey temporarily on pause, Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler has turned his full attention to parenting duties – something he has never before done during the months of March and April.
Although never having been voted in by his peers in Game On Magazine’s ’20 Questions’ segment as the ‘Team Dad’, Wheeler has come close upon occasion. Both Jack Roslovic and Nikolaj Ehlers listed the team captain as their runner-up selection for ‘Team Dad’, with Bryan Little and Matt Hendricks earning their votes, respectively at the time of their questioning.
But now, with hockey – and the world as we know it – at an ultimate stand-still, Wheeler has found a new place, and new daily duties that he has never before experienced.
With the NHL attempting to create some familiarity and content for its fans, the league’s communications/public relations staff began assembling live question and answer Zoom conferences between prominent stars of each team. The selected players have logged on to the web stream and have gone live with other players in their division, speaking up about their experiences during quarantine, the lighter side of self-isolation, while also answering various on/off-ice questions.
Of the four Central Division captains in on the conference call, Jamie Benn is the only member not to be a parent. Wheeler and Co. spent a significant chunk of time going over the many stresses of parenthood to their younger combatant.
“We’re full-time teachers, nannies,” Wheeler said. “We’re just cooking and cleaning and trying to teach and we’re keeping it together. My seven-year-old and my four-year-old pretty much fight all day – it’s a battle… I’m more tired now than I think I was a few weeks ago,”
“Mase (Wheeler’s youngest son) since he’s been born, he doesn’t want anything to do with me really,” Wheeler said. “Now that I’m here all the time he’s starting to realize I’m his dad. So he’s tough. It’s the terrible twos, but he’s turning three in June. It’s interesting seeing what Sam, my wife, is dealing with on a daily basis. There’s no road trips coming up soon. We’re hunkered down.”
Wheeler – who has recently discovered the many rigours of daddy duty, mixed evenly with home-school styled teaching – will not need to do as much parenting/teaching within the Jets dressing room once the NHL allows its season/postseason to resume/begin. With an injury-plagued lineup for the majority of his team’s first 60-some-odd contests, the Jets are in quite possibly the best shape of the season, while health issues continue to alleviate.
“We have dealt with a lot this year, injuries were a bit part of that,” he reflected. “So we were playing shorthanded for a lot of the year, and finally, towards the end there, we were starting to get healthy. Our (defence) was healthy again, some of our guys up front got healthy and our goalie was playing out of his mind. He gave us a chance to hang in there and stay within striking distance of the wild card. We were starting to string some wins together.”
If the season were to resume at some point before a potential playoff buy-in, or an immediate postseason, Winnipeg would have 11 games left to play, while sitting two points up on Nashville for the first wild card playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It was nice to have a full lineup and to see what type of team we had,” Wheeler continued. “We were trending in the right direction. I know our March schedule wasn’t heavy in terms of games, but we were going to have some tough games to play and some big games, against teams that were either right in front of us, or even with us in the standings.”
With the vast uncertainty surrounding this COVID-19 pandemic, the question of ‘if’, and not ‘when’ hockey will be resumed seems to have taken a major step forward. For the time being, Wheeler and his band of buddies will need to continue focusing on the simpler – or not so simple – parts of life, such as parenting alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.