It's Full Speed Ahead for the Washington Capitals' Mike Green: Blueliner Flourishes With Support From Parents, Coach
Friday, May 1, 2009
When Mike Green skates onto the ice tomorrow to begin the second round of the NHL playoffs, Dave Green will be squarely in the Verizon Center stands, watching his boy at a pinnacle he never thought possible. Kate Green, Dave's wife and Mike's mom, will wake up some 1,970 miles and two time zones away, back in the family's home town of Calgary. She and her two other children will have breakfast, and then she will most likely leave them, almost certainly to go out for a walk, perhaps to do some shopping at Wal-Mart, sometime after the puck is dropped. Megan, 18, and Matt, 28, will settle in to watch their brother on television. Kate Green will wander.
Only later in the day, after the result has been determined for Green and the Washington Capitals -- who face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals -- will Kate Green return home and hear the result. Only then will she turn on the DVR player and watch the game in relative calm, the outcome long since determined, one way or another.
This is what happens when a son develops into an NHL star -- and Green is inarguably that, one of the league's best defensemen even though he's just 23 -- and his mother suffers a massive heart attack, leaving her still recovering more than 10 months later. This is how a mother deals with the stress of blood pressure that would rise with each hit, each shot, each shift, were she to watch the game live. This is reality for the Greens, whose son is living a life he never really expected even as the one person who could envision it -- his mom, Kate -- can't be on the scene to support him.
"I'd love to be there for Michael," Kate said by phone. "But I don't know if I'd be any help."
Mike Green would argue otherwise, because he believes he became who he is because of his parents, western Canadian people with western Canadian values. Dave has worked for the city of Calgary for 34 years, overseeing the lift stations that pump water to the citizens. Until her heart attack, Kate worked in insurance, picking up other odd jobs from time to time, at least in part to support her middle child's burgeoning hockey career. He is the kind of star who didn't get new skates every time he needed them, whose parents neither coached the game nor pushed their son into it, who still spends his summers in and around Calgary and boasts: "I get my stubbornness from my mom, and my calmness from my dad."
The latter sense, however, was shaken last June 20. Mike Green was at the Calgary airport, ready to board a flight for Tofino, a vacation spot in British Columbia, just to get away. Kate Green called from work; she wasn't feeling well. Mike offered to stay; Kate said go. By the time he landed, he had a voicemail from his father. That morning, Kate had been to the doctor, been sent home with medicine for antacid and suffered five mild heart attacks. When she called Dave at work, still feeling miserable but not yet diagnosed, it was 2 p.m., about 2:20 by the time he arrived home.
"She's sitting on the steps, and boy, she looked terrible," Dave Green said. "I walked up to her, and just as I did, she went white as a ghost, and collapsed."
That was the big one, a massive heart attack. Here, then, came Kate's stubbornness. After her condition stabilized, she was able to talk to Mike by phone from the hospital. She persuaded him to stay in Tofino, to enjoy his vacation. "I was protecting him," she said. Green, too, was in the midst of negotiating his four-year, $21 million contract, one he would sign in the ensuing days.
"Just so many emotions," he said. "So scary." His week-long vacation was shortened to two days. And when he returned, and saw his mother in the hospital, she could read his face.
"I could tell it was devastating for him," Kate Green said. "He felt guilty for not being there, even though I told him not to come."
This was the woman, after all, who had walked the corridors of the arenas when her son played junior hockey, frequently leaving Dave to watch the games by himself. She couldn't sit still, an ultra-jittery hockey mom in a province full of them, worried about the next hit or the next goal.
Though Dave Green said he never expected his son to be a true prospect -- "I'm still trying to get over watching him on TV," he said -- Kate heard otherwise. As she walked through those arenas, fidgeting, the whispers would come: Look at that kid, the speedy defenseman.