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Bulls’ wives, girlfriends stand by their men

It may appear a glamorous life, women in relationships with professional hockey players.

We get dressed up in nice clothes, attend hockey games, travel to new places, and socialize with new people.

But the reality is, we face uncertain schedules, sacrifice our careers, and avoiding making important plans such as when to have children.

I myself am a lady of hockey, working through my sixth season with my husband Osama Kassab, head athletic trainer for the San Francisco Bulls.

After so many seasons have passed, I hoped the little things — like sleeping alone at night — would become easier. But it has only become more difficult as our lives together — and with hockey — progress.

I struggle the most with being a graduate student and stay-at-home mom. Most days I feel like a single mom, especially when the team is away for a two-week stretch following many home games.

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Other hockey wives and girlfriends face different challenges, like Leah Bowers, wife of former San Francisco Bulls captain Justin Bowers.

Leah was shocked when her husband was traded to the Gwinnett Gladiators. Justin Bowers left immediately to play for his new team leaving Leah stranded in San Francisco:

“He was the captain of his team, there was no chance we thought this could happen. I started to cry — I forgot it was a business, and a business it remains.”

When Justin was traded to Gwinnett, in Georgia, Leah Bowers stayed behind because her parents had purchased plane tickets to come out and visit, but they wouldn’t arrive until ten days after Justin was traded.

Leah Bowers was actually left without a home, because Justin’s teammate Rylan Galiardi (since traded to the Idaho Steelheads) and his wife moved into Bowers’ former apartment immediately. Bowers actually assisted Mrs. Galiardi with settling in, before joining her for dinner. Bowers told me:

“Don’t plan on having visitors. Don’t buy food in bulk, don’t plan anything long term because you might not be there tomorrow.”

This season was Leah Bowers’ fifth in hockey. She’s only lived with her husband for the past two seasons, though, having given up her career — along with the second half of their income — in order to be with him year-round. Finally together, the Bowers had planned on starting a family.

But the Bowers have decided to build a house — instead of staying with family during the off season — which means Leah must return to work, and return to living apart from her husband. The opportunity of a family may pass them by, for now:

 “I’ve always said this is my time to work before we have a family, because once we have children I will be at home on maternity leave. … Having to follow Justin these last few years have brought me out of the work force. I’ll just be working harder once I get home to make up for it.”

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Joanie Menard-Lavergne is experiencing her second hockey season with Bulls defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin.

Menard-Lavergne understands the difficulties of being separated from the man she loves. Menard-Lavergne lives in Montreal and is currently working three jobs while obtaining her Master’s degree in psych education in order to afford round-trip tickets to San Francisco:

“I return to work with the idea to collect as much money as possible so I can come back as soon as possible.”

According to Menard-Lavergne, in order to visit Danis-Pepin, she must align her work schedules, school schedule, and Bulls travel schedule. The couple can be separated for up to months at a time:

“I always keep my phone close so he can reach me whenever he wants, and he is trying to do the same for me.”

The three-hour time difference makes communication with each other difficult. When they are together, Menard-Lavergne struggles to balance her course work and quality time with her boyfriend.

Despite the complications of a long-distance relationship with a man who is always traveling, Menard-Lavergne supports his dream:

“The important thing is to always be supportive in his career, encourage him, and be there for him no matter what may happen. … This is also what he’s doing for me.”

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Claire Lopez, fiancée of Bulls starting goalie Taylor Nelson, left behind her teaching career to join Nelson in his first professional hockey season. After working as a secondary teacher in Michigan before moving to San Francisco, she now works as a substitute teacher for virtual school Connections Academy:

“ I had a good job that I quit to come here, but I would hate not being here with him.”

Lopez was able to find work in her field, though there are complications she couldn’t have anticipated: planning her Michigan wedding from San Francisco, and having to share an apartment with another player.

According to Lopez, the major details that come along with planning a wedding — like the white dress — were taken care of before they left for San Francisco. Yet, little details are hard to handle from far away.

Lopez, though,keeps high spirits, however. Before his call-up to the Worcester Sharks, Lopez had embraced her extra roommate, Bulls goalie Thomas Heemskerk, by creating family dinners each night.

And when it comes to her roommate’s game day rituals:

“I just make sure I don’t get in the way, or stay extra quiet if he sleeps longer [than Nelson].”

Lopez handles herself and her situation as gracefully as possible, claiming:

“I’m not here for myself. I’m here because it’s what he wants to do, and I’ll be supportive until it’s not what he wants to do.”

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As for myself, I rely heavily on a strict schedule in order to keep my daughter and I grounded.

When Osama returns from a road trip, our whole family starts over again. I feel guilty when I become over protective of our daughter, because I don’t want him to discipline her.

I face feeling resentful because he gets to sleep through the night and eat hot meals without interruption. Even when he is home, I do everything myself, because I am so conditioned to do so.

Osama faces the hardship of being separated from his daughter for most of the year, and missing important moments such as her birthday. He handles it graciously; I find strength in his positive attitude.

As hockey wives and girlfriends, we chose the man, not the career. Because it is not a normal job that they can just walk away from, we stand behind them and in turn become the second half of the organization.

All of us have met amazing new people because of hockey and feel blessed for the wonderful opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We find camaraderie in each other when the boys are away, creating lasting relationships even when we are not on the same team anymore.

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Leah Bowers worries about her husband when he retires from hockey:

“What will become his center?”

The rest of us worry about this as well. Our men spend more time in the locker room — and traveling on planes and buses — than they do at home.

I think we all worry about how lost we might feel without a hockey game each week. But until that time comes, we as wives, girlfriends and fiancées, put on our best smiles, march up the stairs of the Cow Palace, and cheer for the professional athletes we fell in love with.

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