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Mr. Softie

by Whitney McKnight

Chris Pronger may be the toughest player in the NHL, but when it comes to his family, the Flyers defenseman and Haddonfield resident is all heart.

The rink-side interview is supposed to be short and sweet—15 minutes tops, I’ve been told. But then Stanley Cup veteran and MVP defenseman Chris Pronger arrives with his entire family in tow: wife Lauren; sons Jack, 8, and George, 6; and their sister Lilah, 3. They’ve come along for a rare outing during hockey season to see the Christmas lights in Philly after the interview is done. Fifteen minutes quickly slide into 60 as Pronger’s wife Lauren slips off to an interview of her own to promote a Flyers Wives charity event, leaving Pappa Pronger to watch the kids. Lilah insists on a game of hide-and-seek with Daddy. “Where’s Lilah?” asks Pronger in a babyish voice, his daughter squealing with delight.
The boys take a little skate across the Flyers’ ice—in their sneakers. This does not please their father.
“No more iPod for you if you don’t get off the ice!” It’s Pronger on dad duty.

Suburban Family: How long have you and Lauren been married?
Chris Pronger: Nine, almost 10 years.

SF: You probably don’t have a lot of time to unwind. But when you do get time, what do you do?
CP: There is not a lot of down time. Jack is just finishing up football now, so he was practicing Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And they’ve got hockey on Wednesdays, and they play their games on Saturdays. So, after school it’s getting homework done, then eat, then you’re out the door taking them somewhere. And I’m busy. And Lauren’s busy, with [Lilah]. We try to have a date night once a week. It usually depends on our schedule, and the kids’ schedule. We usually go see a movie.

SF: Do you think having a date night is important to keeping your marriage solid?
CP: Yeah. Because you can be consumed by your kids and their lives, and if you don’t take care of yourselves: a) your own personal time and b) your husband-wife time where you can have a normal conversation that does not involve that (points to Lilah, crouched at his feet, and giggles slightly). Then you can talk about politics, and what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on in your life and all that stuff, without being interrupted—right, Lilah?—and it helps you to still know each other. As you get older, you evolve, you change.

At this point, Lilah makes a power play for the reporter’s recording device, which Pronger blocks by distracting his daughter with his cell phone. “Lilah, play hockey with the game on the phone. Watch—hit the puck. Hit the puck. You scored!”

SF: Both of Lauren’s parents were seriously ill this year, and they live in St. Louis. How did you cope with that as a family?
CP: I took care of the kids if I was home. If I was on the road, we’d get a sitter to come to the house. Most of the time, if Lauren had to go to St. Louis, then she would take [Lilah] with her.

SF: Was finding a good babysitter hard?
CP: Actually, I played with Todd Fedoruk briefly when I was in Anaheim. So, when I moved out here, he called and told me about someone [his family] used. We’ve had her since day one on his recommendation. She also nannied for [former Flyer] Luke Richardson, and Rick Tocchet, and a bunch of other Flyers’ families.

SF: That’s interesting. It sounds like when you arrived here there was a kind of community network waiting for you.
CP: Yeah. The easiest part is for me. It’s a lot harder on [Lauren] and the kids, because I get traded and I get 23 buddies in the locker room, and I can come hang out here [at the rink] and do whatever. But it’s finding those relationships outside of the rink that are the hardest. You gotta meet people at school; you gotta meet them around the community, or whatever. You gotta put your time in. You gotta work at it. And last year, with it being an Olympic year (Pronger played on the Canadian national team), our schedule was even more compact. And then, as late as [the Flyers] went into the year—mid-June —that’s tough.

SF: What drew you to living in Haddonfield?
CP: [Other Flyers had lived there previously] and really liked it. We heard about the good public schools, and it’s central to the rink [at the Skatezone in Voorhees] and to the city. We like the sense of small town community there, too.

SF: What do you like about living in South Jersey that you weren’t able to enjoy where you lived most recently in Anaheim, Calif.?
CP: The biggest thing for us is the four seasons. You do miss winter and the snow. In California, it’s sunny and 70 degrees every single day. And rain and lightning storms—that’s fun. And the kids love water ice.

SF: What’s their favorite flavor?
CP: Blue raspberry from Gracie’s is George’s favorite. Jack and I usually get a dip cone. I like dip cones. Soft serve is hard to find in California. I am a big soft serve guy. I get excited when the Mister Softee truck comes around in the spring and summer.

SF: Your contract with the Flyers is for seven years, so you can really put down roots here. Your kids are going to be in school a long time here. Do you think you would retire here?
CP: We’re leaving that for another day. We’re not too sure what we’re going to do. We’ve been in St. Louis, Edmon¬ton, Anaheim, Philly. We’ve moved quite a bit over the last five years.

SF: Would you be okay with your kids essentially saying they’re from Haddon field, N.J.?
CP: Yeah. For sure.

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 10 (December, 2010).
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