The bond the Oshawa Generals credit for their success has grown only tighter as they rally around defenceman Will Petschenig, who is playing through the loss of his father.
Normally, a midweek game in the nation's capital means a day trip, up and back. Tuesday, the Eastern Conference-leading Gens stayed overnight so they could attend the funeral of their teammate's father, Daniel Petschenig, a former Toronto Argonauts offensive lineman turned businessman and youth sports volunteer. Two months after turning 50, Petschenig died Oct. 29, from complications stemming from what doctors believe was a blood clot in his lung.
In his grief, Will Petschenig did not miss a game. The only way one might have discerned anything was out of the ordinary on Tuesday is that the he was at Canadian Tire Centre before his teammates. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Manotick, Ont., native came up early to attend his father's visitation and support his family, including his mother Laura, brother Joseph and teenage sisters Margaret and Grace.
"He came back right away — didn't want to miss a game," Generals captain Josh Brown said prior to Oshawa's 7-1 win over Ottawa. "He told me that's what his dad would have wanted him to do. I'm really proud of him for that.
"When someone has to go through something like that it's terrible and we want to be there for him and show our respect," added Brown, a Florida Panthers draft choice. "Just help him along the way. Just be there for him."
'It's his call'
Petschenig decided to play after consulting with his grieving family ("We thought this is what my dad would want"). Generals coach D.J. Smith said he was concerned about how Petschenig would play with such a heavy heart. He noted the team has given him a choice if he ever needs a breather to deal with his grief.
"It's tough mentally to try and stay in the moment and he's done a great job with it," Smith said. "He wants to keep playing. We told him he doesn't have to. It's his choice. He feels it's a bit of an outlet now.
"I didn't expect him to play at all," Smith said, referring to the Generals' homestand last weekend. We told him to take as much time as he wants. It's his call.
"If at any point he feels he can't, sure, he can come out."
Petschenig, in keeping with the nature of stay-at-home defencemen, is known for having a low-key personality. Brown noted that as captain, he's encouraged his fellow rearguard not to internalize any grief. Brown, a London, Ont., native, was only seven years old when his father died in a car crash. That left his mother, Estel Brown, to raise three children.
"I can use that from my own experience," Brown said. "He's my D partner, I called him right away and said, 'I've been through this myself, if you ever need to talk about this, I'm here.' "
'We want to win for him'
The Generals, who are eight points clear of the rest of the East, believe their strong chemistry has been an X-factor in their outstanding start. Not to put something in Sports Clichés 101, but confronting mortality as a group could have a galvanizing effect.
"We deal with it when it comes and be there for each other," said overage defenceman Colin Suellentrop, who relies on feedback after every game from his folks, Eve and Paul, who watch webcasts from their home in Florida.
"I feel for Petsch," Suellentrop adds. "He's been really strong and we want to win for him. it's very hard. The couple games he's been back, he's been unbelievable."
Daniel Petschenig was an offensive lineman and long snapper for the Argonauts in the late 1980s and was also a standout university footballer at Carleton University, helping the Ravens win one of their few gridiron championships during his senior season in 1985. He was also active in minor lacrosse and hockey in the nation's capital. The Petschenig family is asking donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Multiple Sclerosis Society in his memory.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.