Before Monday, Andrew Ladd had never missed a game for the Winnipeg Jets since it relocated from Atlanta. In his single season as a Thrasher, Ladd missed one out of 82 games. So yeah, the guy’s a gamer.
But the captain missed the Jets’ game at the Dallas Stars on Monday, a frustrating 2-1 loss, because his second child was born on Sunday night: The couple's second child and first daughter.
You probably know where this is going.
There’s pressure on any athlete to time their baby-makin’ around their job, to the point where Roberto Luongo and his wife had a plan to induce labor before the 2008 playoffs. And there’s always going to be some critic that questions a player’s decision to put family first, like when Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk criticized NFL players for mismanagement of “nine-month family expansion activities,” language that confirms he may in fact be an android.
And so it was that Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 in Winnipeg questioned Ladd’s decision to witness the miracle of life on a Sunday and then not show up to join the Jets at the Dallas Stars on a Monday:
Baby born last night, healthy, no complications I assume. You as captain don't make game tonight in Dal with playoffs hanging by a thread?— Troy Westwood (@TroyWestwood) March 24, 2014
@NotArby_18 The baby is in this world and healthy. This is pro freakin sports, your team needs you, get to the game.— Troy Westwood (@TroyWestwood) March 24, 2014
Now, Westwood isn’t some jock-sniffer. He played 18 years with the Blue Bombers in the CFL, and he gets an eternal pass from criticism for his 2003 reference to Saskatchewanians as “banjo-pickin' inbreds.” He’s speaking as a former pro.
But he’s also speaking as a former pro football player, a sport in which they play significantly fewer games than in the NHL. Joe Flacco missed the birth of his child to play in Week 1 for the Ravens last season, one of 16 games. Ladd is missing one out of 82; and let’s not forget the real context here, which is that the Jets trailed the wild card by six points before last night with 10 games remaining; now, it’s seven and nine games left.
I have zero issue with Ladd or any parent missing a game for the birth of their child. Ultimately, it’s that family’s decision, and the athlete’s willingness to live with that decision – like when Hunter Mahan left the Canadian Open with a two-stroke lead in the final round to witness the birth of his child.
What about the teammates? What about management?
Depends on the situation. I watched Game 7 of the 2010 Bruins/Flyers series, in which Philly rallied from a 3-0 deficit, while holding my newborn daughter in a hospital room. I remember wondering what call I would have made if I was on either team with a baby due that day, or the night before. I also thought about exactly what Westwood pondered, which is the reaction of their teams if a key player voluntarily skipped what was undoubtedly the most important game of the season for it.
But as Alain Vigneault said when Luongo left, briefly, for the birth of his child: "That's more important than any hockey game and we expect him to be there, and that's where he should be.”
Ladd was there for the Jets 72 times this season. He needed to be somewhere else last night.