Blake Wheeler and the Winnipeg Jets would have been on the road last week, trying to make a final push for the playoffs had the National Hockey League season not been called off because of the pandemic.
Now the seven-time All-Star forward is home for dinner each night with his family.
And for the activities, all afternoon. And the teaching, policing and entertaining every morning with his wife, Sam; 7-year-old son, Louie; 4-year-old daughter, Leni; and 2-year-old son, Mase.
“Mase, since he’s been born, he doesn’t want anything to do with me, really, until like a month ago,” Wheeler said. “Now that I’m here all the time, he’s starting to realize that I am his dad.”
The 82-game NHL schedule, with half of those on the road, means Wheeler is absent from trick-or-treating and Thanksgiving turkey more often than not. He is normally away from home more than one-third of every night in any given year.
Thousands of athletes know that sting. For all the wealth, privilege and rewards elite sports can provide its participants, few vocations require more time away from loved ones. This is what they signed up for, but some parts of life can’t be priced out.
“I appreciate the gift of time and being able to spend it with my family,” said Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese, whose fourth-ranked Terrapins might well have been in New Orleans last week for the Final Four.
When the NCAA Tournament was canceled, Frese hunkered down with her husband, Mark, and their 12-year-old twin boys. She is a middle school tutor now, too.
For all parents, there is no denying homebound days have been draining.
“My 2-year-old gets up at about 5 in the morning,” Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise said. “He naps from like 1 to 3, and that’s our time to take a deep…