Pens' Moms Share Amazing Stories of Their Sons
Matt Niskanen writes Mario Lemieux, Craig Adams floods the basement and more funny tales of the Pens as children
Some of the Penguins’ moms had to wait longer than others for their first road trip with the team. Hilary Adams, mother of 14-year NHL veteran Craig, was one of them.
|Craig Adams youth photo (courtesy of Adams family)|
But Hilary knew it was only a matter of time, as she knows how superstitious hockey players are – she raised one, after all. So when the Penguins lost both games of the last Dads’ Trip back in 2012, she felt it was inevitable that the moms would finally get their turn. And she was right.
“I was really excited,” she said. “It’s always been a dads’ trip and after 14 years, it’s really nice. I was (getting antsy). A couple of years ago, I think they lost a game on the road on the Dads’ Trip, and I said I think it’s time for a Moms’ Trip.”
Hilary said it was wonderful sharing stories with all of the other moms, and laughed that it’s amazing how similar all of their tales are – especially when it comes to basements destroyed from their sons shooting pucks.
“There was a great story where we had an unfinished basement and Craig hit off the valve to our hot tub and the hot tub emptied into the basement,” she said. “He called to say, the basement is filling up with hot water. And I had to rush home from work. He and his brother had to mop it up (as punishment).”
Here are a few more cute and funny anecdotes from some of the other Penguins moms on their baby boys.
Matt Niskanen’s mother Linda revealed that her son had actually been in talks with Mario Lemieux long before he was traded to his team and the owner/legend started signing his paychecks.
|A young Matt Niskanen in a Pens jersey (photo courtesy of the Niskanen family)|
“He wrote to Mario Lemieux when he was in fourth grade,” Linda said. “He brought a library book home about Mario and he wrote to him and offered a puck if he would send him an autographed photo. And we still have that autographed photo of Mario Lemieux.”
So Mario accepted Matt’s offer?
“Mm-hmm,” smiled Linda, adding, “Matt sent a puck back.”
Speaking of pucks, when he was younger, Matt needed someone to play goalie for him as he practiced shooting in the basement. And being the dedicated hockey mom that she is, Linda volunteered.
No equipment? No problem. Moms always know what to do to figure out a solution.
“I had a boat cushion for a chest protector and I used my softball glove as a catcher, and we’d shoot until he started hitting it too hard,” Linda laughed, who strapped couch cushions onto her legs. “And then we had to buy the Shooter Tutor and I just stood in the background. He would have been 8, 9 years old. He just started hitting it too hard, so I had to get out of the net. The only equipment I had was a helmet. Everything else was makeshift. It was fun. We had many, many evenings downstairs.”
Linda said her athletic son was always downstairs shooting pucks, playing on the outdoor rink by their home in Minnesota or going from sport to sport.
“He was involved in everything,” Linda said. “If he had a day without something going on, he was crazy. He needed to be busy at all times. It was straight from football to hockey to baseball and many days, all three of them. He’d take time off for fishing, but other than that, it was something in his hand at all times.”
Brandon Sutter is known for being an easygoing and personable teammate. But when he was little, his mother Connie said it was a different story.
“He was a little bit of a terror, to be completely honest with you,” Connie laughed. “He had a lot of energy and he didn’t like to sleep a lot, so he was a busy little man. He kept me up a lot of nights.”
Fortunately for his poor mother, Brandon grew out of that stage and developed the laidback personality he still has today – although sometimes he was a little too laidback when it came to his studies.
“He was always a pretty laidback kid,” she said. “He didn’t love to go to school, we had to work on the school a little bit (laughs). But you know, as he’s gotten older and I’ve watched him grow through hockey, he’s a pretty laidback guy. He doesn’t get too high or too low, and I think that’s a really good quality.”
But while Brandon may be mellow, that certainly doesn’t mean he’s quiet.
“Whenever I would go to school to the parent-teacher interviews, they’d say, you know, he’s a little chatty,” she laughed. “He’s still a little chatty and I think maybe he gets that a little bit from his mama. But I don’t know, he was a pretty fun-loving kid. He liked to have fun.”
Brandon was born into the famous Sutter family, one of hockey’s most prestigious. He’s one of 11 Sutter men drafted into the NHL, joining his father Brent; uncles Darryl, Duane, Rich and Ron; and cousins Shaun, Brett, Brody and Lukas.
But the reason Brandon first got into the sport, said Connie, isn’t because it was his destiny – it was because he was just like any other little boy who was a younger sibling. Brandon idolized his older brother Merrick, and wanted to be just like him. And since Merrick played hockey, Brandon wanted to as well.
“He started out in a little tiny rink in Chicago called Downers Grove,” Connie said. “We kind of threw him into whatever his older brother was doing because he would sit with me and he always wanted to do whatever his big brother was doing. And he just loved it. He really did love to be at the rink. So if I had to use a little discipline factor, I’d say ‘Brandon, if you don’t do your homework, you can’t go to hockey.’ And he would always get that homework done.”
Brandon has been playing for himself ever since and the name on the front of his jersey – never the one on the back.
“I just look at Brandon and I mean, aside from the whole Sutter name, I think he grew up at the rink and I think this was just always what he wanted to do,” Connie said. “He wasn’t pushed to do it, this is what he always wanted to do. I really am proud of where he’s come. He kind of lets the name just kind of go in the background and he just plays for Brandon and for the team that he plays for, so we’re really proud of him.”
MARY ANN VITALE
If doctors hadn’t discovered the two kidney problems Joe Vitale was born with when they did, they told his parents that he wouldn’t have lived until the age of 5 – much less grow up to become a professional athlete.
“It was scary to have a baby that’s born and have these unknowns,” she said. “The doctor told us at the time that had they not discovered the problem, he would have had a life expectancy of 5. So that’s a scary thing for a mom to face. Then not knowing when the surgeries were going to end, how long this was going to take, it was a lot.”
|Baby photo of Joe Vitale (courtesy of Vitale family)|
But Joe’s father Sam told us on the last Dads’ Trip that the doctors also said to him and Mary Ann, “‘Don’t feel so bad. Your son doesn’t know what he’s going through. One thing I’ve found out about kids at this age that have this kind of surgery is they grow up to be tough, strong men.’”
Mary Ann said they were right.
“He came back stronger, and I always felt that he must have had a purpose,” she said. “He loves sports, and he developed a passion for hockey mostly by the time he was 10. He did a lot of sports up until then. He did swimming, he did hockey, he did soccer, he did football. He did a lot of them. But he decided that hockey was where he was going to take off and he pursued it. Much more than he did school sometimes (laughs).”
Joe is one of six Vitale children and is the third-oldest behind two brothers and has three younger sisters. Being part of such a big family helped Joe grow and develop as a hockey player.
“As a little one, he was the third boy, so he kept up with his two older brothers,” Mary Ann said. “And I think that’s what helped him out with hockey, is that he learned to play with them. Basically he was two years younger than his older brothers and he played with them on the same team, which kind of pushed him a little bit. He was competitive, a hard worker, determined, didn’t like to lose.”
That mindset helped the kid from St. Louis, a city not known for being a traditional hockey market, scratch and claw his way into the NHL.
“Coming from St. Louis, there weren’t a lot of people that go all the way into the NHL,” Mary Ann said. “So it’s kind of a surprise. It’s like there’s times that it just doesn’t seem real. He’s worked hard at it and he went through a lot of obstacles and it was a hard road for him. Many times you sit there and you think about (how) it wasn’t going to happen, it was too far out. They used to say in St. Louis it was like finding a needle in a haystack to come out and be able to play at that level. So we were really proud of him and excited he got that far.”
It’s certainly never been easy for Joe. He’s been overcoming odds his entire life, literally since the day he was born – which makes everything that’s happening right now so much sweeter, especially for his proud mother.
“Any time that you have anything like that with your children, it is a gift (to have him),” she said. “But to have him come through all of this and be able to have a normal life expectancy and then to succeed like this, it’s been more than a gift; it’s a blessing.”