What NHLers Expect When They’re Expecting: Capitals On Becoming Dads Mid-Season
Washington Capitals forwards Nic Dowd, Aliaksei Protas and Conor Sheary share their experiences of welcoming children during the season and how fatherhood has shaped their careers.
ARLINGTON, V.A. — Aliaksei Protas was in the locker room at Capital One Arena, about to start putting his gear on for the Washington Capitals' Valentine's Day bout with the Carolina Hurricanes. But then, his phone rang, and he got a call from his wife, Tatsiana, saying that she was in labor. Protas raced over to the coaches' office to let them know what was happening, and in his suit and tie, raced down the halls and ran out of the arena to the parking garage before speeding to the hospital.
As Joe Snively suited up in Protas' place, the 22-year-old made it in time to witness the birth of his first child, a daughter named Alisa.
"It was pretty much good timing," Protas smiled, adding, "As soon as I got notice, I talked to [Peter Laviolette], ask him if I can go, he said 100 percent. So I just left right away… I was with her the whole time, which was unbelievable. It's a great experience to get together and I was so happy to be there with her, like to support her for that."
For Protas, it was a life-changing experience, but also a difficult one. Following Alisa's birth, he was right back on the ice for a morning practice, and then it was off to North Carolina for the Stadium Series. And, since then, a majority of the games have been on the road, as the team also had a cross-country three-game trip through California. And although Protas' mom is coming to help out while Tatsiana's parents have been around to chip in with Protas on the road, being away takes its toll.
"It's kind of sad… I miss them a lot, but this is part of the job," he said, acknowledging, "It's about 25 days already but for me, it's like a week, because I haven't been home… she's growing up, it's almost a month already, just kind of unbelievable."
Still, Protas is enjoying every second of dad life so far, and his favorite part of fatherhood is just getting to spend time with his daughter.
"To hug her after a trip or something or after a bad day, your whole life, nothing's better than that," Protas said. "Your bad day's like nothing when you see your family."
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The same thing can be said for Nic Dowd, who was in the same spot as Protas back on New Year's Eve in 2019. He was warming up for a game with the New York Islanders when he got a call from his wife, Paige. It was time to welcome their first child, a son named Louie. Dowd dropped everything and ran.
"The game kind of goes out the window," he noted. "At that point, you're just excited to be with your family. Especially with your first baby, it's a little different. I think with your second one, you know what to expect a little bit more. But you know, that first one… you only get to experience so many things in life, and having a kid is one of the peak experiences."
The 32-year-old also welcomed his second child, a daughter named Ruby, in the middle of this past season. He didn't make the team's trip to Columbus in order to be with Paige.
Like Protas, Dowd said that welcoming a child mid-season is a difficult process. Not only because of the hours awake trying to help and then going right back to playing, but being unable to stay for long and get to form an early bond.
"It's a grind, there's no question about it. Having a kid in the season is one of the hardest things you can do as an athlete," Dowd said. "You're just stretched a lot of different ways, and you want to give 100 percent to everybody."
While both Protas and Dowd were home at the time of their children's births, Conor Sheary found himself in a stickier situation.
The 30-year-old had the California road trip circled on his calendar at the beginning of the season, knowing that his second child's due date would land just around the time the team was supposed to head to Anaheim. It'd been giving him anxiety, and it didn't help that he got the call while he was already in his seat on a 5 p.m. flight from Buffalo to Anaheim. Once he got the call from his wife, Jordan, he unbuckled his seatbelt and sprinted off the plane and into the terminal, immediately tracking down a flight back home.
"Luckily we hadn't taken off yet, so I was able to get off and there was one flight out of Buffalo into the D.C. area, and I was able to get on it."
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Sheary boarded the flight roughly four hours later, and after numerous "scares and delays" with the flight, he arrived back home around 10:30 p.m. and made it in time for the birth of his second child, a son named Callum.
"It was quite the whirlwind of 12 hours," he laughed.
Not only did Sheary have Callum to worry about, but he also helped in introducing their first-born daughter, Mila, to Callum and getting her used to having a little brother.
"One minute she's hugging him and kissing him, and another minute, she'll want nothing to do with him," he laughed. "I'm sure it'll just grow into her family and she won't even remember when she was the only one."
Callum was just over a day old when Sheary had to pick up and head out to California to join the team again for the California trip. He missed just one practice after all of that and was right back in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.
"I barely even knew him or got to hang out with him," Sheary said. "A lot of the time, the nurses are in the hospital, and you don't really get your alone time. So being away from him for a week was hard, but I'll definitely make up for it."
While there's not really a set "paternity leave" period for NHLers, the Capitals do what they can to accommodate, and Dowd said having a locker room where several players have kids of their own is helpful. Matt Irwin and Nick Jensen also welcomed kids at the end of last season. Regardless, the organization is understanding, and at the end of the day, nothing comes before family. Not even hockey.
"Family is above the game, I think we all want to play for as long as we can, but this is a short part of our lives," Dowd said. "You know, kids, we'll have that experience forever."