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The hardest job in hockey

by Katie Krause

It’s late November, and Rampage defenseman Matt Jones walks in the door from a four-game road trip to be welcomed by his loving wife Rachel.

He sets his bags down to unpack – only to repack them again because he has to be at the airport in two hours to board a plane to Dallas to meet up with his new Phoenix Coyotes teammates.

He barely has enough time to tell his wife that he won’t be home for Thanksgiving before he heads out the door again on his way to his first NHL game of his career and does not know when he will be back.

That’s the life of a hockey player – it’s also the life of his wife.

They say behind every good man is a good woman. Hockey wives are more than good women. They are superwomen. A hockey player will be the first to admit that being a player’s wife is a full time job and quite possibly the most demanding job in the hockey industry. Their career is their husband.

You never know where your husband will be relocated to, and there is no set timetable. The flexibility that both the player and his wife must posses is tremendous. Neither one has the ability to dictate in which city they will live next. Playing in the AHL doesn’t allow room for stability; a player can be recalled to the NHL (or sent to any other league) at any point, and they must be ready to go as soon as they hang up the phone with little-to-no preparation time.

Therefore, it is very hard for a hockey wife to keep a job when she can’t even tell her future employer whether she can work there the next month or even the next week.

A hockey wife might list her job description with details like:

  • Must be very flexible
  • Adaptable to change
  • Relocateable
  • Must have other hobbies
  • Must be very supportive
  • Must work nights, weekends and holidays

Would you want to apply? These ladies don’t really have the option. It comes with the territory. From the moment they said “I do,” they assumed a full-time job.

“Hockey wives are definitely one-of-a-kind and put up with a lot,” Rampage goaltender Karl Goehring says. “’A lot’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

The wives are nomads. They have to pack up shop at least twice a year — if they are lucky. Imagine having to pack up your entire house and then unpack it all at your new location at the start of a hockey season. And by the way, you have to do it again in another six months, and it’s an annual occurrence.

When there are kids involved, it starts to get pretty tricky. At the NHL level, it is a little easier because professional movers pack up your bags and move it all for you. But at the AHL level, you are on your own. It can take a toll on someone and can get draining.

These ladies do it with a positive attitude. Matt Jones shared that his wife hangs pictures wherever they are – whether it’s a hotel or an apartment – because she wants it to feel like home. And she always does it with a smile on her face.

What can be even tougher than the move is when you get there—what happens now? The wives explained that it can get very boring.

Rachel Jones advises that “the best thing you can do is find a hobby.” Laura Goehring adds that joining groups can be very helpful too. “I took part in groups at the local university, and I also took dance classes. It is important to meet people right away and get involved immediately because it helps to adjust to the city.”

Having to relocate can take the biggest toll on the children. They have to move to a new school, make new friends and leave their home behind. The children have no choice but to go with the flow. The wives say that the best thing to do is to get your children involved as soon as possible because it helps to make a smooth transition.

Out of all this, Jackie Sonnenberg, Martin’s wife, points out that moving has made her more capable of accepting change and more flexible.

One thing that all the wives seem to be positive about when moving to a new city is that they are able to meet new people and enjoy seeing new places. “You never know how long you are going to be somewhere, so enjoy it while you can because you might not be able to come back,” Jackie advises.

Hockey has had a big impact on their lives, but having a family is a big change for the hockey player, too. The priorities change when you settle down and get married. Matt points out that “your wife and family have to be number one. You have to balance being a husband and being a hockey player.”

A common theme amongst the players is the general rule to try your best not to bring the game home. Most admit to doing it anyway, but they point out that it is important to try to separate your career from family life. Not only do the players have to deal with a tough game, but the wives do as well. For the most part, it is best to steer clear, but sometimes you just have to talk about it. Karl points out that the best thing after a tough game is knowing that he has someone who will sit there and listen when he gets home. Matt says he can depend on Rachel to relieve the tension with a joke.

One would think that a hockey wife would never see her husband, but when you look at their schedule, it doesn’t seem to be too bad. The players have practice for about two hours almost every morning, and the rest of the day off with an occasional community appearance. The only downfall to the schedule is that they are away for about half of those games.

Their schedule can be compared to that of a school teacher, working September through April and summers free. Some of the wives comment that it’s the long road trips that are toughest to deal with. These guys can be away from their families for up to a month at a time and more if their family does not live in the same city as their home arena. “The great invention of cell phones is what keeps me connected with my wife when I am on the road,” Martin Sonnenberg says.

When these guys aren’t on the road, they have another job to do at home too — the chores and watching the kids. All the wives comment about how wonderful their husbands are about helping around the house and with the little ones. Rachel Jones points out that Matt loves to do the cleaning when he is at home. “He loves to vacuum and keep everything very clean.” That’s not something you would expect from a hockey player.

One thing that is common amongst all of the wives is that they are all very supportive of their husbands’ careers. In order to have a marriage work you have to be supportive, and it can be hard sometimes when your husband’s job demands a lot from you.

Remember when Matt was going to be away for the Thanksgiving holiday? This is what Rachel’s schedule looked like: She met up with Matt as soon as she could, driving five hours to Dallas with their vehicle loaded with family pictures. The next day, as Matt was comfortably traveling with the Coyotes on their chartered two-hour plane ride to Phoenix, Rachel was navigating though Texas and New Mexico on her monotonous drive to Arizona solo, covering about 1,000 miles from Dallas to Phoenix to make it there within a day. She was able to spend almost a week with him in Phoenix before Matt was sent back to San Antonio. Once again, he was quickly jetted to the Alamo City, arriving well rested, while Rachel packed up and hit the road for another 1,000-mile trek to see him play that night.

Matt praised his wife for her support when she covered a few thousand miles to see him in his first NHL game saying, “It’s an incredible feeling knowing that you always have that person to come home to and have that kind of support.”

One of the best things a wife can do for her husband is provide him with support. In hockey, support is something appreciated by the players, both on the ice and off the ice. It’s an essential ingredient for both the wife and the husband in any relationship, but hockey players may require a little more than the average scoop.

The wives have assumed many titles – from nomads to chefs to support council – but these superwomen still try to lead a normal life. They may not get noticed on any stat sheet, but the good thing is these guys understand the sacrifices that their wives make everyday in order to support their careers.

Karl Goehring explains that his wife Laura keeps his life organized and takes care of their daughter while keeping a house livable — not to mention she has to sacrifice being away from home.

“It is so valuable to me,” Karl says. “You can’t put a price on that.”