His wife was giving birth. The miracle of life, unfolding before his eyes. He watched the doctors move quickly and the baby start to emerge. This was his first child, it was all so moving, the whole thing, really emotional. . . .
Except that, well, Paul Coffey doesn’t like to get emotional. Especially since there were other people in the room. He didn’t want to cry or melt. Yet the feelings were welling up inside him.
“What did you do?” I ask.
“Honestly?” he says. “I thought about the Blackhawks.”
Of course. Lots of fathers do tha–
The Chicago Blackhawks?
“Whenever I got emotional, I flashed on them, how we were gonna play them. It kept me calm.”
That’s a first for me, folks.
I mean, I’m sure the Blackhawks are happy to know that Coffey is thinking about them. They may not want to know where.
Still, it’s a pretty interesting form of mind control. The only parallel I can think of is the old Woody Allen movie, in which Woody, in an effort to perform better, concentrates on Willie Mays while making love to a woman, and later she asks whether that’s why he kept yelling, “Slide!”
The Chicago Blackhawks?
Well. If you know Paul Coffey, it makes perfect sense. Here is a man who should have “MR. CONTROL” stitched above his No. 77. He wants to be at the switches every moment, adjusting the dials, keeping the steady course. He doesn’t get flustered. He isn’t easily impressed. He speaks with the maturity of a man much older, he grins more than he smiles, and his concentration is a laser beam.
You know how athletes talk about being “focused”?
They want to be Paul Coffey. His game plan
And yet, he is still human. He has feelings, just as he has plans. True, he waited until his mid-30s to find the right woman, and yes, their wedding was carefully scheduled for last summer, in the off-season.
The same went for the pregnancy, which was supposed to culminate just after the Stanley Cup playoffs. Perfect timing.
But life goes where it wants and laughs at your appointment book. And so, eight days ago, Savannah Coffey, a 5-pound, 5- ounce girl, came into the world
— about five weeks sooner than planned.
And suddenly, Mr. Control has his hands full.
“It’s different,” Coffey admits. “Suddenly there’s another person there. We brought her home on Saturday, and Sunday, after the game, I went straight upstairs to check her out, see what she’s doing. . . .
“We gave her her first bath last night. Not really a bath, you know, more like a wash rag. . . .”
He gets a faraway look in his eye, and you suspect there might be more to all this than he lets on. But then, since we are in the locker room, and the Wings are about to leave for Chicago to play Game 3 of the Western Conference final, he quickly adds, “When I’m here, I’m thinking strictly about hockey. Nothing else enters my mind.
“My mother-in-law saw me kissing the baby the other day and she said, ‘It must be nice to think about her on the ice,’ and I said, ‘I don’t.’ I can’t. Maybe a regular-season game, but not during these games. My focus has to be here.”
Mr. Control. The night after his daughter was born, Coffey came to Joe Louis Arena to skate, by himself, just him and his German shepherd, who barked as he glided past. In the still of the ice, his skate blades cutting a swishing sound, he thought fleetingly about how everything had changed, that
“I’m a father now. This is kind of neat.”
But then he thought “my legs are stiff. I need to skate more to be ready.”
Mr. Control. His life plan
Now, you can’t knock Coffey’s intensity. It is what makes him special. He has won Stanley Cups with Edmonton and with Pittsburgh and he still wants more. He has shared locker rooms with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and he still wants more. He is 34 and had as good a season as anyone in the NHL this year. Not any defenseman. Any player.
He still wants more. He remembers last season, the jolting finish, a first-round exit, how he sat by his locker, stunned, for over an hour, and when someone asked about the summer he cursed. “What (bleeping) summer? The
(bleeping) summer’s ruined.”
He has no intention of reliving that experience. So, baby in mind, he packs his mental baggage and zeroes in on tonight’s Game 3.
Funny, no? Some people wait their whole life to reach the championships, and some people wait their whole lives to have their first child. Coffey has both going simultaneously. Talk about a busy week.
“I have a great wife (Stephanie),” he says. “That’s how I can do it. She doesn’t say you have to be at the hospital. She understands me.”
Well. Maybe all except that Blackhawks thing.
Anyhow, Coffey will be a good father. His seriousness, dedication and love of Bruce Springsteen music are, in my book, key indicators.
“I’m glad we had a girl first. You have more patience with a girl. With a little boy, a man is likely to say, ‘I don’t care if you’re a week old, I told you to be quiet!’ “
He laughs. Paul Coffey will watch his daughter grow. And one day, when she has a child of her own, he will be there for everything, because, chances are, he might be done playing by then.
“You know, I’ll tell ya,” he says before leaving. “In that operating room, I was so impressed. I mean, what women have to go through?
“Geez. I thought playing hockey was intense!”
See? He was paying attention.