RALEIGH — LeAnne Poolman couldn't believe her eyes. The charter flight, complete with a rose greeting her arrival. The posh hotels and thoughtful care packages. The fine dining. Yes, life in the National Hockey League is quite something, and she and the other mothers who raised and nurtured the Winnipeg Jets are getting quite a taste of it this week.
"I think I told the moms at our table that (first) night I’m going to click my heels three times and go back to Kansas," Poolman joked Monday as she sat at PNC Arena in Raleigh. Or, more accurately in her case, go back to East Grand Forks, Minn., where she and her husband Mark raised young Tucker Poolman and two other hockey-playing sons, one currently at the University of North Dakota and the other in high school.
"Our household has revolved around hockey for many years. When Tucker called and invited me on this trip, I have to admit I got teared up. It was a culmination of all those years. And just the gratitude to go on this trip really meant a lot to me," she said.
Although her son was injured last week and isn't expected to play on the road trip, that hasn't dampened her excitement.
"It’s been fun to talk to all the moms and hear all the stories of growing up with the kids and hearing how they did the travelling. We talked about minivans and TVs and fighting and all the things that a mom puts up with. I never really wanted to be a hockey mom but you just get to be a hockey mom," she said.
"You get to spend a lot of time with your kids and it’s all worth it in the end. This trip, they’ve treated us like royalty and it’s just been very humbling. It’s been a real treat."
Their ever-present smiles have been a welcome sight for the Jets, who are mired in a two-game losing streak and have just five victories in their past 16 games. You'd never know that by the cheerful scene on the ice Monday, where all the moms were brought out for a group photo before practice got underway.
"Moms make you in a good mood. You can’t walk around growly because they’re just happy, right? They’re such a positive force in the big scheme of things. Two losses doesn’t mean you’re going to kick your kid out, so it’s nice to have some positive energy around the room," said coach Paul Maurice.
Tania Brossoit, who was born in England before moving to Vancouver, where she runs a dance conservatory, said it's been a thrill getting to meet and spend time with others who share a common bond.
"I think, as a group, we are an amazing… there’s such a mixture of us but we all have the same stories. We’re all very real. I’m really enjoying hearing all the stories of the boys, because they’re all just as forgetful and all the same kinds of kids," said the mother of Jets backup goalie Laurent Brossoit.
"We’re just hockey moms, in an NHL world, and they’re still just our kids."
As he took his gear off following practice, Brossoit said having his mother along for the ride makes this as memorable a road trip as he's ever had, regardless of what happens on the ice.
"If there’s anyone I’d like to come out and see what our lifestyle is like, day to day, it would definitely be her. She’s my biggest supporter right from the get-go, both financially and in terms of watching and keeping track of stats and this and that. She’s always been right there. There’s always the dads' trip and it’s really nice to have the moms' trip, because they really do deserve it," he said.
It's not just the players, but coaches and team staff also have a special someone with them this week. Lynda Pritchard is getting an up-close look at what her son Al does as the team's massage therapist.
"To go behind the scenes this week has been unbelievable, because I know that many do not know the extent of work that they do. It's just fabulous," said the native of Roland, in the Pembina Valley region.
"Right down to snipping the threads today off of their jerseys. If there was a little thread, we were snipping. We were checking for holes. There's gum, there's tape — everything is in the stalls, just perfect. It's run so smoothly. And they have fun. I'm so glad that they got along well, because it is just constant work — after the game and before the game."
Pritchard said it's been especially heartwarming to see the bond the players share with her son, who has battled both kidney and thyroid cancer and is the inspiration behind the Pritch Strong clothing many team members have been wearing. Her son, Michael, died of sarcoma at the age of 28.
"Having lost a child already, it just makes it... it hurts. But he would never have handled it — nor us, either — without the family that the Jets have been. It is absolutely beyond words. We would have never gotten through it without you," she said.
"It's just heartwarming. Paul (Maurice) always says that this group of guys — men — are truly a family. And when he speaks to you about Allan, you'd almost think he was talking about his own son. It's wonderful."
There have been group events, such as a big shared dinner in Chicago at the start of the trip Saturday night, plus individual outings with their sons. Jane Roslovic, mother of Jack, is hosting them all for a brunch Wednesday in her hometown of Columbus before the Jets take on the Blue Jackets that night.
"They’ve literally treated us like queens. It’s been pretty amazing," said Brossoit. "For me, it’s just seeing how the whole thing runs. For me, I came and watched practice and seeing what everybody does behind the scenes… we don’t get to see that usually. It’s like a city in itself."
New friendships are being formed that will go well beyond the rink. And magical memories are being made.
"Meeting with all of the other mothers, we have shared so many things and it's so good to see a different side of everyone instead of on the ice and fighting for their life. You know, I think my life in hockey is complete now by this trip," Pritchard said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.