It’s a unique bond, this one between father and daughter.
Don Waddell has the support of daughter Chelsea. He also has her scrutiny at times.
Take the trade of Kelly Buchberger in March 2000. His daughter, just 11 years old, heard talk the Thrashers general manager may deal the franchise’s first captain.
“She was like, ‘You can’t, you can’t trade him,’” Waddell said. “I can remember I made the trade, and it was two days before she would talk to me again. She was so mad at me for trading Kelly Buchberger that I didn’t think she was ever going to get over it.
“We live this life, it’s a 24-hour life, and we live it day and night.”
All was soon forgiven in the Waddell household – just a minor bump in the road for a hockey family. The incident also illustrates a relationship between a father and his daughter that few can claim.
“I support him in everything he does,” said Chelsea, the only child of Don and Cheryl Waddell. “Some things, I’ll say, ‘I cannot believe you did that.’ Patrik Stefan was probably my all-time favorite. I was really upset when he left. But I support my father. I trust his judgment.”
When Waddell was about to pull the trigger on the Marian Hossa trade two years ago, he had to do one last thing before making the deadline transaction official. He had to send a text message to his daughter. “I’m about to do it,” she read, thus making her the first to know the new direction of the franchise.
It’s a benefit of living the hockey life, Waddell said. There are long days spent at the rink and the office. Then there are the days – and sometimes weeks – spent on the road watching games, scouting players and doing NHL business.
“For a part of your life to care about what you do for a living really makes it satisfactory for me,” Waddell said. “She’s like me. She enjoys the wins, and when we lose, she feels it, too.”
Hockey was indeed always a part of Chelsea’s life. When she was born, Waddell was a player/coach for the Flint (Mich.) Spirits of the International Hockey League. She was much too young to remember the first game she attended. “I apparently slept through the whole thing,” she said.
The family spent several years in California as Waddell became the general manager of the IHL’s San Diego Gulls. A move to Florida followed for a similar position with the IHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. Chelsea was always at the arena, skating by age 2. The first game she can remember was a Solar Bears game.
“When I first learned to walk, I learned to skate,” Chelsea said. “It’s in our blood, I guess. … I wanted to be close to my dad. I think it’s a fun sport. I definitely choose this over football or basketball.”
In 1998, the family moved to Atlanta to begin the NHL’s new franchise. At the age of 10, Chelsea had a new favorite team. She even played on the Lady Thrashers for a while.
“I was a tomboy, big-time, growing up,” Chelsea said. “I wore my jersey to school. I played hockey for a little. I followed my dad a lot. I always said I was going to be the first female coach in the NHL.”
She attended nearly every Thrashers game. When she finished high school, she went to college at Augusta State to pursue a degree in elementary education. She came home every weekend the Thrashers were at home. It wasn’t enough. She transferred the following year to Georgia State so she could attend every home game. She still does, a semester short of graduation. (Next semester, she'll be a student teacher to finish her degree.) And though the father-daughter bond is strong, Mom isn't left on the sidelines. Chelsea sits in the stands with her mother at games but makes the trip upstairs to visit her father during intermissions.
When Waddell can’t be at a game, Chelsea fills him in.
“If I’m not here at the game, she loves to give me the report on the game,” Waddell said. “I can remember one of our games here, she called me and said, ‘Dad, you won’t believe the goal that Ilya [Kovalchuk] just scored. It was a wraparound goal. It came out of the corner.' She was about 12 at the time. I’m thinking to myself, ‘What have I got going here?’ It’s been fun having her grow up in this environment and having her enjoy the team as I have.”
Another aspect of the relationship is the public criticism that Waddell faces in his position. He knows he has two people in his corner.
In December 2002, Waddell fired head coach Curt Fraser. A fan brought a sign to the arena the next game claiming the team had fired the wrong person. During an intermission, Chelsea stole the sign.
“She won’t ever admit to it,” Waddell said. “My wife knows the story better because she was down there. I told them both, particularly my daughter, that you have to be careful what you read because … you are going to read a lot of bad things. So, if I was you, I wouldn’t read them. Every once in a while, she’ll say, ‘Dad, I almost answered that blogger.’ She gets angry about it. She defends me, no doubt.”
“You have to realize, it’s just them mad about something, and he’s the only person they know to attack,” Chelsea said. “It doesn’t get to him. He’ll explain [it to me] and we’ll move on.”
The bond of hockey unites the Waddells. It’s their Hockey Way, to borrow the team’s slogan this season.
“It’s the reward that we get to enjoy because of some of the other parts,” Waddell said. “We are gone for weeks on end. We go to Russia. We go to all these places, and you abandon your family. My wife has been at every game, too. The unique thing is because you travel so much and then to have them be part of your life and come to games here is a very special thing.”