This story originally appeared in the June 8, 2015 issue of Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.
Trish and Chris Strome saw this day coming. They knew their three kids wouldn’t always be bursting through the front door of their Mississauga, Ont., split-level, the one with a Canadian flag on the outside and the Canadian dream coming to life within.
They realized their crazy, busy, loud house would eventually be stilled by hockey; that the same force that breathed life into it would leave it as empty as a Sunday-night fridge.
So they got a dog, Oscar, a Shih Tzu. They wanted to be prepared.
“He’s only been around for a couple of years,” says Trish. “But we were kind of thinking about needing more activity in the house.”
“It’s not quite like having three boys,” says Chris as Oscar sniffs around a visitor, more greeting party than watchdog. “But he’s great. I don’t know what it would be like to come home to a house that’s empty. It would be really sad. He’s always at the door for us.”
The Stromes are a growing hockey dynasty. Theirs is the kind of tale any sports-mad family would love to be able to tell—even just once. But the three Strome kids are good enough that others write their stories down for them.
There’s plenty of material. For example, take one three-day weekend in March: On the 21st, a Saturday, Ryan, their oldest at 21, was named the second star for the New York Islanders in a 3–0 win over the New Jersey Devils. On the Sunday night, Dylan, 18, who’s likely to be a top-five pick at the NHL Draft this month, notched six points for the Erie Otters to secure the Ontario Hockey League scoring title. Not to be outdone, on the Monday, Matthew, the 16-year-old baby, scored the winner in overtime to lead the minor-midget Toronto Marlies to the OHL Cup—one of the reasons the Hamilton Bulldogs made him the No. 8 pick of the OHL draft.
“We never thought it would be like this,” says Trish. “We just got the boys into hockey for the fun.”
But everything comes with a price, even if paying it comes with many more gasps of joy and lasting memories than disappointments: Good hockey players leave home too soon.
“It’s going to be really different,” says Trish, who went back to work as contact centre supervisor when Matthew started playing AAA hockey in minor atom so the family could cover the costs of three kids playing at the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s highest level. “There is always, always, a lot of commotion here. When the kids are home, they’re busy, and then they have their friends over, and they’re always hungry, and in September, when they’re gone, I don’t know. How do you even cook for two people?”
It’s happened incrementally, each time a little harder. When Ryan left home to play for the Niagara IceDogs, it felt somewhat normal, like he was leaving for university a few years early. With Dylan, it was a little more daunting: Erie was a couple of hours farther than St. Catherines, and crossing the U.S. border made it seem farther still. This fall, Matthew will be just a stone’s throw away in Hamilton, but there’s a finality when the youngest leaves.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be with Matt,” says Trish. “He’s the baby, and I’m just used to having him here.”
There is some hope for Dylan. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the No. 4 pick in the draft and a desperate need for a big, strong centreman. And yes, the Stromes are Leafs fans.
“Chris is a diehard, and my kids grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada in their Maple Leaf pyjamas. I’d make popcorn and we’d stand for ‘O Canada,’” says Trish. “The Leafs would be great, but we’ll be happy wherever he goes.”
Regardless of where Dylan is drafted, it won’t bring back time. This summer, the kids are all around, which means some rare family dinners and everyone’s favourite pastime: chirping Dad.
“Put it this way,” says Chris, an electrician who hits the weights far less than his gym-honed sons do, “I wear my shirt around the house.”
For years, they never took a family trip that wasn’t centred around a hockey tournament or—in the summers—lacrosse. For years, almost every weekend, holiday and evening was spoken for.
No regrets, mind you. “It became a lifestyle for us,” says Chris, who coached each of the boys when they were younger and remains their tough-love conscience. “Some people would go to Florida or go to the movies or the mall—we just did sports.”
Still, a few years back, with their wedding anniversary coming, Trish and Chris decided to go away on their own. During hockey season.
They went to Punta Cana and, with all their kids’ seasons at peak drama, were forced to subsist on the minimalist texts of teenage boys. “Chris wants details, details,” says Trish. “And they’re like, ‘Ya, we won. Scored a couple.’”
They admit that being away from the hockey whirlwind wasn’t easy, but they proved to themselves they could do it. The past three years, with Ryan and then Dylan off their minor-hockey books, they’ve made winter getaways a staple.
“We spent so many years with one of us going to this rink and the other going the other way, we didn’t spend a lot of time together,” says Trish. “And when we did, it would be at 11 o’clock at night while I’m still cleaning the kitchen and he’s taken out the garbage and gone to bed and we’re exhausted.
“If you don’t find something to do together, [a relationship] keeps growing apart.”
Next year, with the boys all gone, there will be more time together than ever. Out will come the calendar that Chris still buys Trish every Christmas, which in years past would have been filled with the boys’ schedules in colour-coded highlighter ink. Instead of figuring out how to get which kid to what rink, for the first time in their married life Trish and Chris Strome will be planning for themselves.
The theme won’t change though: When does Hamilton play Erie? Where are the Islanders? Can we see all three boys in one weekend?
They’ll leave Oscar to the grandparents and take hockey trips a lifetime in the making.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.