Capitals' wives and girlfriends support each other and stay out of the limelight

By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; C01

It's hard to miss the young women at their typical coffee spot just inside the Sport and Health Club in Ballston.

They're striking, yes!

But, in a regular kind of way.

It's not just their looks, although even sans makeup, post-exercise with their hair pulled back, each is lovely. But it's also the fact that there are usually at least five of them. And that they are loud, and laughing and bragging about how their workouts are more hard-core than their husbands'.

Rachel Fehr, 24, is there Tuesday, dishing about the latest episode of the VH1 reality series "Basketball Wives," about the glamazons of the NBA.

"They are in a completely different league," Fehr says. Absolutely true, the others nod.

"Don't they go on the road?" asks Angela Corvo, 31.

Not sure, but "they do everything high-end," Fehr says. "And they have paparazzi."

Several of the women's hands shoot to their faces, pretending to block imaginary photographers.

"That is sooo not us," Fehr says, a nearby newspaper photographer notwithstanding.

And the wives (and one girlfriend) of the Washington Capitals -- the team with the best regular-season record in the National Hockey League, who play a do-or-die playoff game in their best-of-seven series with the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night -- say that suits them fine. (For the record, the Nationals' wives last year said they were really regular, too, but, the Nationals lost all over the place. Just sayin'.)

Some pro-athletes' wives, especially on high-profile teams, court fame. They write books, drip diamonds and camera crews, and tabloid reporters hang on their exploits. Fehr, who is married to Caps forward Eric Fehr, is a home health-care nurse. Aimee Laing, 29, wife of forward Quintin Laing, drives a Hyundai Santa Fe.

While the highest-paid NHL player (Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier) earns a respectable $10 million per season, he is easily eclipsed by the $25 million paid to NBA star Kevin Garnett last year and the $32 million paid to baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez. The NHL does pay the highest minimum salary of all the major sports: $500,000 a year. The Caps' ice wonder Alex Ovechkin made $9 million this year.

The Capitals are a young team (several of the big names are under 25) and many of their top players -- including Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green -- aren't married. Compared to cities in Canada, where many of the Capitals are from, Washington is still evolving as a hockey town and Capitals players are mostly anonymous. The wives and girlfriends: totally anonymous.

"Our guys are only starting to get recognized," says Mackenzie Keeley, 22, girlfriend of defenseman Jeff Schultz since high school in Calgary, Alberta.

It's part of what keeps the women so down-to-earth, they say. Even if the ladies have money enough to buy $700 Christian Louboutin patent-leather pumps, it's just for the playoffs, they swear. They are young, attractive, wealthy enough, with just a touch of fame. It's a mix that mostly works well, and for the parts that don't, they have each other.

Hang time

The group usually works out together -- cardio and weights or spin class five times a week. Once a week, the women will use a trainer. They unwind afterward with coffee, and Fehr brings her homemade granola. On this day, they do a little decompressing from the playoff jitters. The Capitals had a 3 games to 1 lead in the series before losing the last two games, which forced the seventh game Wednesday night.

Corvo, married to defenseman Joe Corvo, is still wondering if other pro wives get to travel. "I've never once been on the plane. I've never even seen the plane," says the 31-year-old. A native of suburban Chicago who met her husband in high school, she's the 0nly non-Canadian in the group. "In Raleigh, I was on the radio one day and it was the coolest thing ever. Six people came up to me later and asked me if I was Angela Corvo."

As a full-time mother of two boys, ages 5 and 4, Corvo says most of her life is pedestrian. The guys "go on the road and your kids get sick and they puke and you're a single mom and you have it all on your own," she says.

Or you call a friend who gets it -- another hockey wife or girlfriend -- to come help, as Corvo did the other day when she got sick and Keeley watched her kids for three hours. Corvo's husband was traded to the Capitals from the Carolina Hurricanes in March, and that instantaneous pack-it-all-up, retrench, make-new-friends process has been tough.

"That's why we have to win the [Stanley] Cup," she says. That's what would make their family's uprooting worthwhile. That's why she has given the other women "mojo gifts" to wear to the game -- red nail polish and red ribbons to go with their custom-fringed T-shirts and those $700 Louboutins, which, after all, have red soles.

"You move here, and your girlfriends are picked for you," Fehr says. "Our friends are each other."

Because the overarching narrative of a hockey wife isn't the star's season: It's the loneliness. The Capitals play 82 games a year and half are away, so in addition to working out, the women have potlucks and do service projects. Saturday, they cleaned up at Fort Dupont Ice Rink in Washington, along with nearly 80 Capitals fans. Most of their extended families are in Canada, in small towns where the women met their husbands as kids. (Fehr met her husband in Winkler, Manitoba, when she was 5; "we grew up together," she says.) None hires a nanny or housekeeper, so they clean house and babysit each other's children. Fehr does part-time home health care.

At the game Friday, before heading to their seats, Fehr and Keeley stood in a long line waiting to buy drinks. "We don't get much special treatment, and we don't need it," Fehr says. Nearby, fans Kevin Urbanski of Severna Park and Tim Dunlap of Silver Spring, who work at Dunlap's roofing company, and Shawn White, a Baltimore bar manager, say they hadn't noticed the wives. But then "I probably wouldn't recognize" any of the players either, Urbanski says.

"Even the players wives are standing in line?" White asks. Hockey babes in line for a beer just seems to fit. "I like this, this is blue collar. This is a blue-collar sport."

The friends agree that the women are good-looking, though they didn't want to sweat them. "I wouldn't go head over heels," White says. But still, "if they are wondering, we're going to go to Georgetown afterward and make some memories." Just in case the Washington Capitals' ladies want to tag along with random fanboys. Heads turn as the women head back to their seats.

Game jitters

Sipping coffee after their 9:30 workout Tuesday morning, the group talks about the perks. Like "when you want a table at the last minute," says Laing, whose two toddler boys were at the gym day care.

They are hopeful, fearful about the Capitals' chances Wednesday. "I hope we don't let it slip away," says Karie Erskine, 33, wife of John Erskine, whose 15-month-old son was also at the day care (they have a daughter in preschool).

They're the best team in the NHL, Keeley points out. "I really want to win. They have such great potential."

For Fehr, who doesn't have kids and is always homesick for Canada, it's bittersweet. "I want my husband to have a good game. I don't want to pack up the house. It's still cold back home." But if they absolutely have to leave, they'll be upset for a day or two, then it'll be like "can we get home for my nephew's birthday?"

They don't imagine it's the kind of glamour life they see on the reality shows, but no one is complaining.

Special correspondent Kerry Flagg contributed to this report.

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