LIVING LIFE IN THE "CULT" OF HOCKEY
DENVER -- On day three of the Parent’s Trip, the Buffalo Sabres and their parents gathered for dinner in the Mile High City on Friday night. Hockey was inevitably on the big screens in the room.
Teresa Miller, Ryan’s mother, reacted as you’d expect, with a big smile, her hands in the air, as Drew Miller was seen scoring a goal for the Detroit Red Wings. Cheers went up across the room. “Millsy’s brother!” one player shouted. The Sabres goaltender himself cracked a smile.
Hockey is life for NHL mothers, and Teresa was in a familiar place, watching another hockey game.
The mother of two NHL players says she often has one game on her television and the other on her laptop to keep up with both sons. She never misses a game.
They may be seen on screens and may get a good deal of attention, but Teresa Miller says, “They’re your kids. And you don’t really think of them as being any more than that.”
Drew Stafford’s mother, Debra, agreed.
“They’re real people,” she said. “I’ve had so many people over the years come up to me and say, ‘you must be so proud of your son.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not any prouder of my son than you are of your kids.’”
Diane Ennis, Tyler’s mother, said she could relate: “They’re just your kids. Jordan, Ty’s older brother, is an electrician. We always say that we’re just as proud of him as we are of Ty. They both worked hard to do what they’re doing.”
Working hard, and often, was a requirement to reach the highest level in the hockey world. For these families, it meant hockey was a way of life, and the mothers were always in the thick of it.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Ennis said. “With the kids in hockey, we were always at the rink, constantly, 24 hours. If you weren’t at the rink, you were fundraising to be at the rink. All you knew was hockey.”
“Your vacations … hockey tournaments,” she added. “Your whole life, when your kids play hockey, that’s your whole life.”
Stafford recalled going to tournaments overseas, to Russia and Paris, when Drew played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. “We were immersed in that.”
Miller said when her kids played youth hockey, it was like they were in a cult. Ryan got to play with the same group of guys for a long time. “The team manager was like the cult leader; he’d tell us where to go, what to do and where to eat,” Teresa explained.
But was it all worth it in the end? Of course it was.
Miller, Ennis and Stafford all said they watch every single game their son plays in. “And they’re taped as well,” Ennis said.
One of the toughest parts of the game for the mothers is injuries.
As if it isn’t enough to see your loved one get hurt, Stafford pointed out, “Then they show it in slow-motion, and you hate that! We feel the pain at the same time.”
“It’s nerve-racking and scary. Every time Ty is on the ice, I’m petrified,” Ennis said.
While agreeing with that sentiment, Miller said she’s learned over the years, “It is what it is. I can’t control anything.”
As for this year? The mothers believe the Sabres are turning things around.
“They’re competing,” Miller said. “And they’re competing throughout the game. They’re not always winning, but they’re right there, and at least they’re competing.”
Ennis said of a recent loss to Pittsburgh, “It didn’t feel like a loss because they were in it. A couple mistakes and that was it. But it was entertaining to watch. I think they’re turning a corner, they’re working harder.”
Hard work got them to the NHL, and hard work will keep them there too. And their mothers, as always, will be watching.