In the fall of 1990, Wendy and Dave Tippett had just moved into a new house in Hartford. Well, technically, since Dave was knee-deep in training camp with the Whalers, it was Wendy who did the moving—eight months pregnant and wrangling her three-year-old daughter at the same time. She unpacked the last box and thought she might get a breather before her baby arrived, and then the phone rang: It was David Poile, GM of the Washington Capitals, welcoming Wendy and Dave—who was at the rink and had no idea he’d been traded—to the team. Away they went, again.
The rest of their moves were less dramatic, but surprisingly, the itinerant life of a hockey spouse didn’t sour Wendy on the whole process. “It became my secret superpower,” she says from Scottsdale, Ariz., where she’s a realtor who specializes in working with hockey players and Dave is head coach of the Arizona Coyotes. “It’s the one thing I know how to do: move.”
For all but one or two megastars on each team, pro hockey is a nomad’s life. If a player gets moved before the trade deadline, he’ll just rent a place or stay in a hotel for the rest of the season while his family remains in their old house to minimize the upheaval for the kids, Tippet says (for the single guys, it’s a lot easier: whenever, wherever, just show up). But even when someone signs a new contract and wants to buy a place, uncertainty rules: The big requirement for any hockey player’s house is quick resale potential. Tippett steers her clients toward desirable neighbourhoods that sell fast, and there’s a sweet spot in each city’s price range where properties tend to move. A lot of players buy a much more modest house than they can afford, simply because it’s too hard to sell a behemoth property when they inevitably get shipped out. “I think people would be so shocked how many guys live in houses where it’s like, ‘Seriously? This is his house?’” Tippett says. For most players, the forever home doesn’t happen until they retire.
And then there’s what they call “the travel package.” That’s the mediocre furniture, dishes and household goods that hockey families live with, knowing it’s all going to get beaten up in moving trucks again and again—no one is schlepping around the continent with Grandma’s china and a designer dining set.
Tippett is an unusually full-service realtor. Given how hockey families sometimes have to leave town like thieves in the night, she’s done everything from meeting the cable guy and coordinating furniture delivery to washing the dishes and stocking the cupboards. The only problem is letting go once the new occupants show up. “I cannot give up control because I want it done perfectly,” she says, laughing at herself.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.