For Tommy Win­gels, it was time to align his pro, per­sonal lives per­fectly

Chicago Tribune - - CHICAGO SPORTS - By Chris Hine

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.

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