Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Co-pilots ready for takeoff

Jets' wives, girlfriends settling into life in new hockey-crazy home

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They're young and gorgeous -- yes, some of them are blond -- and their partners are pulling in six- and seven-figure salaries.

There was no mistaking the telltale red flash of Christian Louboutin soles on one pair of feet.

But while their men will spend the bulk of their time chasing Lord Stanley's coveted trophy, the six women grabbing a pre-game bite at the MTS Centre hardly fit the stereotype of "trophy wife."

Glamorous, carefree, pampered?

"We're all going to Supper Central to make meals," said Rachel Fehr, wife of Winnipeg Jets right winger Eric Fehr, of their planned group outing to the meal-assembly storefront off McGillivray Boulevard.

Gold diggers?

"If I was a gold digger, why would I choose to move to Windsor?" says Bianca Pavon-Solis, Vancouver-born fiancée of Jets forward Kyle Wellwood, who hails from the southwestern Ontario city.

There has been a lot of travel, but not much jet-setting in the past year, what with four moves (Phoenix, Moscow, St. Louis, San Jose) and the birth of their son, Roman, in March.

And it's not like Fehr's hubby of four years -- she's got the wedding date tattooed on her left wrist -- had much earning power when she first met No. 17 in Winkler. Back in kindergarten. They started dating in Grade 9.

"I was 15, he was cute and funny and we just never broke up," says the 26-year-old nurse.

People have this misconception that hockey wives are all high-maintenance and glamorous, Fehr says, but most are hard-working career women in their own right. "No one's sitting at home waiting for the paycheque."

Pavon-Solis was a ship broker (someone who imports and exports goods by sea), and a hockey fan who went to games mostly for the socializing before she met her mate. Now, like many of her peers, she's facing the prospect of being a single parent during the long stretches when the Jets are on the road.

"It's not very glamorous being home alone with a baby," she says.

Brandy Ladd, wife of Jets' captain Andrew Ladd, just graduated from the New England College of Optometry in May. She and Andrew bought a summer house in B.C. in June, got married in Las Vegas in July and moved to Winnipeg in September.

"It was a busy summer," says the 28-year-old Red Deer native, who plans to look for a job once they settle in. The couple is currently renting a house in Waverley Heights. "I didn't even write my Canadian board exams because I thought I was moving to Atlanta."

Emily Glass, 26, a native of Washington state who's married to Saskatchewan-born left-winger Tanner Glass, was working as an educational consultant in Vancouver before the move and plans to commute on a part-time basis. She and Tanner met at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He was there on a hockey scholarship, she was on a soccer one.

Sam Wheeler, 25, spouse of left-winger Blake Wheeler, graduated from Boston University in 2009 with a degree in international relations, including a minor in Chinese. She's been to China three times and passed the "intermediate fluency test" for the language.

Emily Hendry, 27, put her career plans -- she was studying to be an elementary school teacher -- on hold to move to Chicago and then Atlanta with her partner of eight years, Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. They're expecting their first child in January.

None of these young women came across as complaining about their lot in life. They're aware of and grateful for the perks that come with having life partners who are essentially national heroes, not to mention local celebrities.

"Everywhere we go, people will just stare," says Fehr. "Even at stoplights, people will be rolling down their windows."

"Some people followed us from the rink to Earls and came in to get autographs," Ladd adds.

More than other cities, Winnipeg fans are loud and knowledgeable, says Pavon-Solis. "I think that's Canadian fans in general. They seem to care about each player individually. I think it's a more personal thing for them."

Adds Fehr: "They'll know where each player played junior hockey and where he went to college."

The life of a hockey player's partner may come with its own set of challenges, but these women are aware it's a fleeting thing.

"One of the things about these careers is they're so short-lived, so we want to support them while they're living their dream," says Glass.

"My husband has worked so hard his whole life for this and now I get to watch him live it. And to be able to be so relaxed financially at such a young age, that's a big thing."

As for that inevitable question about how the recent transplants feel about the pending Manitoba winter, the general consensus here seems to be: "Bring it."

Winnipeg winters are going to be a breeze, says Pavon-Solis, compared with Moscow, where Kyle played in the Kontinental Hockey League. Maybe not in terms of temperatures, but at least where grocery shopping is concerned.

"There are over 30,000 stray dogs in downtown Moscow alone. Walking home with groceries was pretty scary."

Windchill, blizzards, icy roads, waist-high snow drifts? None of that scares Hendry, who grew up in Manson Creek, B.C. (population: 40). Her family moved to Prince George when she was 13.

"We were so far up north, we didn't have a school, so we were home-schooled. And we didn't have electricity so we had to use a generator. I'm not too worried about Manitoba winters."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 2011 D1

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