For Tommy Wingels, it was time to align his pro, personal lives perfectly
Forward Tommy Wingels, a New Trier graduate from Wilmette, is thrilled with the chance to play for his hometown team on a one-year deal.
Shortly after arriving at Tommy Wingels’ home in Lincoln Park you learn who’s really in charge.
It isn’t Tommy or his wife, Molly. It’s 19-month old Greta, who reigns over the place like it’s her fiefdom.
Greta, still clad in her pink and white pajamas, was all smiles just after 8 a.m. Saturday as she greeted a photographer and reporter from the Tribune while pushing a toy shopping cart.
“She has been smiling since she was born,” Molly Wingels said. “She’s a smiley one.”
The smiles wouldn’t last the entire time the strangers were in Greta’s presence, especially when her parents tried to get her to stop giving treats to their dog, Penny, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. But they returned when she waddled around the gray wooden-floored duplex on the bicycle Greta’s grandparents gave her.
All the while, Tommy Wingels couldn’t help but smile at his smiling daughter as he leaned on a counter in the family’s immaculate kitchen.
On Saturday, Wingels let the Tribune into his home and ride along with him to the Hawks’ fan festival, which nearly filled the United Center with fans for a training camp scrimmage.
The 29-year-old, who played seven seasons with the Sharks before he was traded to the Senators in January, is entering his first season for the Hawks. Getting the opportunity to play at the United Center, where Wingels scored his first NHL goal, is a dream come true for the New Trier graduate from Wilmette, who is on a one-year deal. So this tour may be short-lived, but for now Wingels has his professional and personal lives lined up perfectly.
“It’s hard when you’re away from home to have a community outside hockey,” Wingels said. “You have hockey friends and it’s kind of about it. It’s hard to create a community outside of it. Here in Chicago, we’ve got a lot of good friends we can have a social life with and a good community of people. My entire family is here.”
Molly’s family in St. Louis isn’t too far away. And Wingels can go to Cubs games at Wrigley Field any time he wants — so long as Greta will allow him.
“The first game she lasted one batter,” Wingels said. “It was a 7 p.m. game, she lasted one batter in the first inning and we had to get her out of there.
“She gets tired. She’s a wiggle worm,” Molly Wingels said.
Before the event, the Wingels family gathered in the living room and kitchen. The TV had a morning show that served as ambient noise. Greta was busy roaming through the pantry next to the refrigerator.
The family is getting settled into their new place, where they own the bottom of two two-floor units. There are four bedrooms on the ground floor. The front room on the main floor is fairly empty, while the kitchen has a white island, white cupboards and gray floors. The white furniture and entertainment center in the back living room fit the motif. One of the bedrooms downstairs is dedicated solely to Greta’s toys.
“We can just throw all the toys in there. This is looking extra picked-up for you,” Molly said. “Around 11 a.m., pre-nap and post-lunch, everything is kind of all over the place.”
Wingels began the move from the family’s summer home in St. Louis on Aug. 21, the day of the total solar eclipse. St. Louis was right on the edge of the path of totality, but Wingels was about the only person headed out of town that day.
It was the second move the Wingels family made in the last year after the Sharks traded Wingels across the continent. Chicago was the easier move.
“When you go to a different team, whether it’s on a one-year deal or you’re traded somewhere, absolutely there’s a loneliness factor,” Wingels said. “You go from the rink to your family and your family knows nobody. They really have no one to reach out to and no one to hang out with. When you don’t have that relationship with people, it’s hard to just pick up and join another social group.”
Wingels appreciated all the Senators did for him, but was hoping for a change when he became a free agent, and he heard the Hawks were interested. When the negotiating window opened before free agency, however, the Hawks didn’t call. It wasn’t until later that week Wingels got a call from general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville. They said the Hawks were lacking battled-tested veterans to fill out their bottom lines in their first-round sweep at the hands of the Predators. Wingels fit what they were seeking.
“I was watching (the phone calls),” Molly Wingels said. “He was standing outside on our back deck, and I could see him smiling from ear to ear. I’m not sure what was said there but he was very excited. It was kind of a no-brainer for us.”
While the Wingelses were talking Saturday, they had one eye on Greta, who kept going back to the pantry, pulling out anything that looked edible. She settled on “Teensy Fruits” after Wingels told Greta she might make Penny’s stomach hurt if she kept feeding her treats. At about 8:30 a.m., Wingels got a message from Tony Ommen, the Hawks’ senior director of team services, letting him know traffic around the arena was heavier than normal. So Wingels got ready to go. He hopped in his black Range Rover in the garage and pulled around to the front. Greta and Molly waved goodbye from the small front porch. Wingels waved back as WUSN-99.5 FM, a country station, played in his car. Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” blared through the speakers.
Wingels doesn’t have a set route to get to the United Center and instead relies on the navigation phone application Waze to get him there. Today, the app tells him to go down Ashland Avenue to Armitage, where he gets on the Kennedy Expressway. While he drove, Wingels talked about his love for the Cubs and how he watched them win the World Series.
“I was in San Jose with a buddy. I had a couple beers and the comeback happened in the seventh or eighth innings and I had to go back to my place and watch it alone,” Wingels said.
As he merged onto the Kennedy, Wingels again talked about his family and what it was like to have them here in Chicago.
“You don’t have to worry about the family side of it,” Wingels said. “You know your family is happy and you have the ability to not worry about babysitters or anything like that. It makes you more comfortable.”
Wingels got off the Kennedy and onto the Eisenhower for a small stretch before exiting at Damen Ave. Already the Hawks fans lined up blocks away from the arena. He stopped at the top of the exit ramp to let fans in Hawks jerseys cross. Has Wingels seen anyone wearing his jersey yet?
“No I haven’t,” he said with a laugh. “Hopefully they got a special in the store that they can change the (Trevor) van Riemsdyk No. 57 to Wingels.”
The traffic controllers cut Wingels no breaks as he made his way to the United Center. Every block they stopped him to let fans cross. The clock approached 9 a.m., two hours before the start of the scrimmage, and Wingels still wasn’t sure where exactly to park. He asked a Hawks public relations representative for confirmation. He was headed the right way. As Wingles got closer, the fans multiplied in number. There were jerseys of all numbers and colors on the sidewalks. Hossa, Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, even Marcus Kruger, were in the crowd, but no Wingels, who can maintain his anonymity in Chicago, for now.
“Hopefully it remains that way,” Wingels said. “I don’t think too many people know I (play for the Hawks).”
One of the only people to own a Wingels Blackhawks jersey is Greta.
Soon, he’ll get to see her wear it at a game in his new home. And Wingels is glad his new home doesn’t feel that way.
“I’ve always been someone who prioritized family far more than the money or far more than any other aspect of it,” Wingels said. “Hockey is a distant second in my life, it really is . ... I love the game, I really do, but there’s much more out there in life than just hockey.”
A day in the life of Tommy Wingels: The new Blackhawks center relaxes with his wife, Molly, and 1-year-old daughter, Greta, on Saturday morning before fighting traffic on his way to the Hawks’ fan festival for a training camp scrimmage at the United Center.