Married to the Game: Jets wives tell all in exclusive new documentary
Jets' wives create their own team to carve out space for themselves in a hockey-mad world
Married to the Game
Airs Sept. 28, 2019
7 p.m. on CBC Manitoba
It's a Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg and Byfuglien is ready to hit the ice — but this isn't a Winnipeg Jets practice and Dustin isn't the one wearing the Number 33 jersey.
It's an Adult Safe Hockey League (ASHL) game and Emily Byfuglien came to win.
"We have some pretty good girls who hold us together," Byfuglien said in an interview for the CBC documentary Married to the Game.
"This is our year this year: the Winos and the Jets."
Byfuglien, the wife of Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin (also Number 33) and mother to their three children — Kira, 7, Kai, 3, and Theo, 2 — plays on a rec hockey team called the Winos with other NHL wives and girlfriends. The team was started in 2015 by Brandy Ladd, wife of former Jets captain Andrew, while they were living in Winnipeg.
"Honestly, I think it brought most of us closer together, just being on the team together," Byfuglien said.
Jenna Hutchinson, wife of former Jets goaltender Michael and mother of their five-month-old daughter, Lilah, had more experience than most of the other women — she formerly played competitively and earned a scholarship to the University of Manitoba.
"I remember the first game we played, no one knew what they were doing. No one could really skate," said Hutchinson. "So it was a rough start, but it's been great and I love it. Lots of the girls took skating lessons and now we're definitely a lot better."
For many of the women who are married to the game, leaving their families, careers and hometowns are sacrifices that come with being in a relationship with an NHL player.
Playing with the Winos is one way for them to carve out time for themselves, to have fun and make friends.
Jennilie Perreault moved from Quebec with her husband Mathieu for his first season with the Jets in 2014 and had to give up her career in orthotics and orthopedic prosthetics due to certification requirements outside of her home province.
"I was lost, because I [went from] working a lot to not working. So it was a shock," said Perreault. "My first year was really rough and I was trying to find a way to feel accomplished."
She initially focused on art and fitness and now is a full-time mom, taking care of the couple's three children — Violette, 3, and twins Pénélope and Hector, 2.
"She takes care of the house, the dogs, the kids. During the season, it's really hard on them. She has to do everything," Mathieu said. "She's given up all she had to come live with me and do this, raise this family that we have. She's just an angel."
Byfuglien said she found out she was pregnant with their first child as she was packing up the house to move to Winnipeg. She never had the chance to finish her university studies.
"The whole reason [my career] is on pause is because of hockey," Byfuglien said. "So I didn't have the chance to finish, but I would love to still get my degree."
Emilie Kulikova moved from Sweden to Florida and then Winnipeg to be with her hockey star hubby, Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov. She's raising the couple's two-year-old son, Maxton, and has recently picked up a part-time job at a jewellery store in downtown Winnipeg.
"I don't think I break even. No, I lose money by working," said Kulikova. "But It's been really good for me to do something for myself and get a life outside of hockey, and I made my own friends and met really nice people."
'I miss my family'
Being alone so much is the hardest part, Hutchinson said.
Her husband, Michael, left Winnipeg in 2018 as a free agent after five seasons with the Jets. He was signed to a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers before he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. During this time, Winnipeg-born Jenna was pregnant with their first child and running her successful boutique bakery brand, Jenna Rae Cakes.
"I don't know if you ever really get used to it," said Hutchinson. "I think that's definitely the hardest part and I think that's what people don't really understand, is that we're alone 50 per cent of the time. For me, it's more than that because my husband's not here."
She relocated to Toronto in February to be closer to her husband, leaving her friends, family and business in Winnipeg.
"It's either you're at home with your family and all the support that comes along with that, but without your husband, or you're with your husband, who's travelling a lot, so you'll be alone without the family around," said Ashley Nicole, Jenna's twin sister and co-owner of Jenna Rae Cakes. "It's just one of those hard situations. No choice is really great."
Byfuglien misses her family, who still live where she grew up, in Manson Creek, B.C., a mining community five hours north of Prince George. But they are closer to Dustin's family in Roseau, Minn., about 150 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
"I'm always jealous when people have family around that can help babysit or, you know, drop your kids off at your parent's house," said Byfuglien. "I miss my family quite a bit, but I think with hockey you're used to it."
For all the sacrifices these women have made to support their partners, they admit they enjoy Winnipeg and have grown accustomed to the lifestyle.
"It is a very nice place to live," said Kulikova. "Everybody's super friendly. There's a good amount of things to do for kids. There's good food. The team is good. The fans are amazing. During the playoffs last year, I was speechless. It was unbelievable."
Perreault says Winnipeggers are "amazing and welcoming" and she has no regrets that she left her home and career for her husband.
"I could have the choice to go back, but I love him, so I would follow him everywhere. I'm here in Winnipeg in –45 [Celsius]," said Perreault.
"We're lucky to have each other and be able to raise kids. I would do it again. It's all worth it. We have a beautiful family and we're happy."
Hockey is a full-time commitment and the main focus for the entire family during the season, but she wouldn't have it any other way, Byfuglien said.
"I don't think I would change a thing," she said.
"I feel like we've been lucky that he's played so long and has had such a great career. We have three kids that we love and I feel like this is a great life and I appreciate it all. To me, we're just a normal family."
The Winos kick off their new season with the ASHL on Sept. 15. The Winnipeg Jets return to the ice to open the regular season playing against the New York Rangers on Oct. 3.
Married to the Game premieres on CBC television as part of our Absolutely Manitoba series on Sept. 28.