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Leaving home to pursue hockey tough on families

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

Image result for jonathan toewsJonathan Toews still remembers the conversation with his mother well.

Just a few weeks after leaving home at the age of 15 to attend school and play hockey at prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minneapolis, she wanted him to come back home to Winnipeg. Her son wasn’t even old enough to drive, yet he was already living on his own in a dormitory hours away.

“She was getting pretty emotional on the phone,” said Toews, the 23-year old captain of the Chicago Blackhawks who was dubbed “Captain Serious” by his teammates. “She wanted me to come home and I said, ‘No, I’ve got to stick with this decision. There’s no going back now.'”

Toews thinks about that decision now and feels like it was great for his career. Not long after, his younger brother David made the same decision to leave home for Shattuck St. Mary’s. Both wound up being selected in the NHL Draft, so you could say the decision paid off in the long run.

However, it wasn’t easy and Toews understands that a lot of parents probably struggle with the idea of sending their sons off to play a higher level of hockey elsewhere. For those considering it, he advises making a sound decision and taking as much time to debate it as necessary.

“(Parents) definitely have to take a lot of time to think about it and weigh the pros and cons of what they want and what their son wants,” Toews said. “I was the one who made that decision. I wanted to go and I was ready to stick with it.”

He’s not alone among his NHL peers.

There are plenty of pros in the League who never had to live with a host family or in a dorm to play elite travel hockey, but there are also a lot who did, including Blackhawks star forward Patrick Sharp.

He left his home in Thunder Bay, Ont., at 15 to play in the Ottawa Junior League with his older brother. They stayed with a host family, the Webers, whom Sharp still stays in touch with today, and it worked out well.

Still, he said, there were rough patches to get through.

“It takes a pretty big sacrifice,” said Sharp, who remembers using calling cards and arena pay phones after games to call home. “I was upset about moving away. I was excited to play junior hockey and it was always my goal to get to that next level, but you miss out on a lot of things at that age … 14, 15 and 16. Your friends (back home) are in high school and you’re calling home and checking in to see how things are going. It’s tough, but I was fortunate because I had a great host family and my brother was with me.”

For those who don’t have the option of living in a dorm, Sharp said fining a good host family is a must if a youngster opts to leave home. Concerns on the ice are secondary, he said.

“As a parent, I would want my son or daughter to be with a good family and in a good situation,” he said. “It can be kind of easy to forget about a person. When they’re living away, you’re just assuming they’re living in good hands. Most hockey programs are similar. There’s good ones and bad ones, but the lifestyle off the ice is what I’d watch for.”

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