- Scott Burnside, NHL
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BOSTON -- Jen Zanon and her three kids dropped husband Greg off at the airport in Minnesota on Tuesday morning to send him on his journey to his new NHL home in Boston.
"Just to see the look on the kids' faces and see in his eyes what he's going through," she said later.
She pauses and you can imagine her wiping away tears.
As a hockey family, you get used to dad going off for three- or four-game road trips, but those absences are invariably followed by homestands that mean lots of quality time with dad. The trade deadline changes all of that for dozens of families around the NHL.
"It's just hard to know he's not coming back this time," she said.
"It's hard. It's very hard."
Every year at this point in the season, the pattern repeats itself. Teams decide which players are expendable, which players they covet. The media obsesses over who may come and who may go. The deadline approaches and media outlets devote countless hours to the deals and what they mean to a team's fortunes short- and long-term.
And then it's over. Except for the players involved and their families, it's just the beginning.
Zanon, a stay-at-home defenseman for the Minnesota Wild, was in his basement on Monday after the Wild's practice when his wife yelled down that her sister read on Twitter that he had been traded.
"Your sister is crazy," Zanon called back up.
Moments later, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher called to confirm the trade, and all that was orderly and normal in the Zanon household was gone in an instant, from the afternoon's plans to how the family would spend spring break.
The Zanons have three children aged 6, 3 and 9 months. The couple had been trying to prepare the children for this possibility, as much as you can explain the trade deadline to children their age. Zanon's contract is up at the end of the season. After a wildly successful start, Minnesota plummeted through the standings and Zanon had been in and out of the Wild's lineup.
The couple talked to the kids about the possibility that Zanon would be traded and that, if it happened, the family had to "come together as Team Zanon," Jen recalled.
"But even with the mindset, be ready, be ready, you can't be ready when that call comes in," she said.
The family had a nice afternoon planned.
They would take the older girls to swimming and then go to Costco to do some shopping.
"We had all these things planned. But our plans changed very quickly," Jen said.
Instead, Zanon dropped his family off at the pool and went to the Xcel Energy Center for the last time as a member of the Wild. His bag had already been packed by a trainer and was left at security. The rink was empty, no teammates to say goodbye to, not even a last walk through the locker room.
He returned to the pool in time for Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, the man who had first drafted Zanon when Chiarelli was with the Ottawa Senators, called to welcome the defenseman to the Bruins.
The Zanons did end up doing some shopping but among the items they hadn't planned on buying were small wheeled travel bags for the two girls so they would have something to pack their stuff in when they make trips to see their dad during spring break and when the playoffs begin. One bag with Tinkerbell on it, the other with a princess, so there's no confusing which belongs to which daughter.
Among the many calls received and made Monday afternoon was one to Jen's parents, who are from Minnesota but were wintering in Arizona. They are now en route back home to help their daughter with their grandkids.
"Without Greg around it's going to be a heavy load with three kids that are missing their dad," Jen said.
"I think the best way to describe the emotions right now is that it's bittersweet."
Her husband is moving to a team that won a Stanley Cup last spring.
He will be going to the playoffs for just the third time in his career and the first time in four years. He will get a chance to showcase his talents before hitting free agency on July 1.
"So this is pretty exciting for me," Zanon said in an interview.
And yet, there is that moment at the airport that reminds us of the personal costs of such wheeling and dealing.
"The personal part of this is very hard to come to grips with," said Jen who met her husband when both were attending the University of Nebraska-Omaha playing sports 13 years ago.
"But who could ask for a better situation to be going to?"
'This is like his dream'
A few thousand miles away, Mike Mottau was in Washington, D.C., headed to a visit with wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland with New York Islanders teammate Matt Moulson and a member of the team's communications staff when his cell phone rang. It was head coach Jack Capuano. Initially the call was disconnected, but Capuano called back to confirm that Mottau was headed to the Bruins.
Mottau asked for the car to pull over, and he got out and walked back to the hotel. Training staff were in the process of moving the team's gear from the Capitals' practice facility in Arlington to the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, but were already readying Mottau's equipment for a trip to Boston later that afternoon.
When he called home, his wife, Courtney, didn't believe him.
"I said, you're not funny," she said. "I said, 'I don't believe you. This isn't funny."
Mottau laughed and said he couldn't repeat exactly what his wife said when he called with the news.
"It was similar to when I proposed to her," he said in an interview at the Bruins' practice facility this week. "She just couldn't believe it."
Both are from the Boston area. They went to high school together. Courtney has an older brother that played hockey, so she and her friends spent hours in hockey rinks around the New England area judging each by the quality of their snack bar. Mottau's brother is a captain with a fire department in the Boston area.
Mottau's career saw him go from Boston College to the New York Rangers organization then to the Calgary Flames with minor league stops in Hartford, St. John, New Brunswick, Cincinnati, Worcester, Peoria, Lowell and then back to the NHL with the New Jersey Devils before signing with the New York Islanders in 2010.
The Mottau's have four children 6 years old or younger, so in many ways Monday's call was one the entire family had been dreaming about for a long time.
"It still feels surreal," said Mottau, who counted some 400 text messages in the hours after the trade was announced.
Last year during the Stanley Cup finals, the couple's son, Ryan, would wear a New York Islanders pajama top with a Boston Bruins bottom. When he went to see his dad on Long Island, he would wear an Islanders jersey but underneath there would be a Boston T-shirt.
For the longest time, Ryan has asked his parents why Mottau couldn't play for the Bruins. Often he wondered aloud if the Bruins had the wrong phone number for their house. When Courtney told her son on Monday that his dad was now a Bruin, Ryan remarked that the Bruins had finally found their phone number.
"Oh my gosh this is like his dream. He lit up. I just couldn't wait to tell him," Courtney said.
Still, while the trade means a move home for the Mottau clan, it still means a logistical nightmare.
Among the first orders of business was to figure out how to get Mike's car back from the Long Island area airfield from where the Islanders departed on their current road trip. It was decided that he would mail the keys home and Courtney would have to find someone to drive her out to the airfield.
There were calls to a moving company in the hopes of getting their current home packed up for a move to Boston at the earliest possible time.
Courtney also hurriedly called the local cable company to get the Center Ice package so the family could watch Mottau's first game in a Bruins' jersey on Tuesday night even though she confided to the cable provider she would soon end up canceling the entire cable subscription.
"I can't miss this game," she said.
There were calls to schools and pre-schools about where her children might be able to spend the final months of the current school year.
"I was prepared for him to be gone for a week. Now it's going to be a little longer than that," Courtney Mottau said.
When Mottau arrived for the morning skate of his first game Tuesday, the Bruins hadn't yet worked up a name plate for his stall. Judging by the smile on his face as reporters crowded around him, it didn't matter a whit.
'He's going to be playing for the Cup, so that's OK'
Jen Rolston likes to joke that her day doesn't start until 3 p.m. For the mother of four boys between the ages of 10 years old and 4 months, 3 p.m. means picking up from school, homework, dinner, hockey practices. On Monday, she was preparing to get her three oldest boys from school in New Jersey when the phone rang.
Moments later, her husband Brian shouted down from upstairs that he was on the phone with a reporter from Canada and that he thought he'd just been traded to Boston.
"I was elated for him. I wanted it to be so true," Jen said in a telephone interview.
When she picked the boys up from school, "they were over the moon excited," she said.
When they got home it was pandemonium as Brian tried to get the logistics arranged for picking up his equipment in Long Island and then heading off to Boston. There was packing and a last-minute babysitter to arrange and hockey practices to get to.
"He just looked at me and said, "Where do I start?' It was a just a three-ring circus," she said.
Although none of this is particularly new to the family, given that Rolston broke into the NHL in 1991. But this season has been difficult. He was traded to the Islanders by the Devils in late July and, given the relative proximity and the roots set down by the kids, the family decided they would remain in New Jersey and Rolston would commute.
"This year has been tough for her. She's had to juggle a lot," Rolston said in an interview.
"She's one of a kind. She doesn't really rely on me for anything."
Recently, Rolston was waived by the Islanders, so there has been more than a little uncertainty surrounding his career leading up to the trade deadline, all of which made Monday's call welcome.
"I was excited. I was very excited. Obviously, things on the Island were tough," Rolston said.
This will be Rolston's second tenure with the Bruins. The couple's two oldest boys were born in Boston and Jen Rolston recalled the oldest, Ryder, going in the locker room after Bruins victories and high-fiving his father's teammates. He learned to skate in Boston.
For the oldest boys, the trade means new NHL Bruins gear, although Jen Rolston discovered that some of Brody's old baby Bruins stuff will actually fit Zane, the final member of the Rolston clan born in October.
If she could, Jen Rolston said she would pack her bags and head to Boston with her husband tomorrow. But with hockey teams and schools and friendships that's just not practical for them, so they will have to make do with weekend visits and the occasional road game to the New York area such as this weekend's matinee with the Rangers.
"It's never easy when something like this happens. They miss their dad and I miss having Brian at home," Jen Rolston said. "I still think that I'll see him walk through the door."
One of her sons, Brody, 8, reminded her of an upcoming family sharing day at school and wondered whether his dad would be able to attend.
She reminded him that Brian wouldn't be at home but playing for the Bruins.
"Oh, that's right. He's going to be playing for the Cup so that's OK," he replied.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Trades are all part of the game for NHL players and their families, but there really is no way to prepare for your entire life changing in one phone call.