When I grew up playing hockey, my dad coached the Utah Grizzlies in the now defunct IHL, which meant he wasn’t exactly close to home in Kelowna, BC. He did everything he could to help with my playing career, but it was my mom who did the bulk of the grunt work. If you’re at all familiar with youth hockey, you know that means 5 a.m. wake-ups for practice, driving ridiculous distances for weekend hockey games, and a complete lack of freedom.
My mom did it all, and gave me every opportunity possible to succeed.
Matt Nieto of the San Jose Sharks had a great mom too, only her situation hasn’t exactly gotten easier as her son’s gotten older.
Nieto, 21, is still tied for fifth among rookies in playoff scoring, having contributed five points through seven playoff games. He made the Sharks out of training camp and chipped in 10 goals this season, all while the most important person in his world, his Mom, was going through a rough time.
Mary Nieto was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer while Nieto was pushing to make the Sharks. Here’s Nieto, from the San Jose Mercury News:
"It was pretty crazy to take in all that, and I had to come to training camp," Nieto said. "It was a tough situation. I had to figure out a way to clear that out of my head while I was at the rink and working."
The first Californian drafted by the Sharks when he was their second-round pick in 2011, Nieto, who grew up in Long Beach, was a bit of a long shot to make San Jose's opening-day roster at age 20. He had spent only 11 games in the minors last spring after three years at Boston University, but injuries created openings at forward, and he filled one.
"When I made the team out of camp, I think it kind of helped her," Nieto said. "We were playing every other day, and it'd take her mind off it, being able to watch."
Mary Nieto has undergone two surgeries and completed a round of chemotherapy over the past nine months. More surgery is required, but she said her prognosis is good.
How was it when Nieto finally made the team and he called his Mom to talk about it?
“He wouldn’t even talk about the hockey game,” Mary Nieto said. “He’d be like, ‘How’re you feeling today? What’s going on? When’s your next doctor’s appointment?’ He was just real compassionate and always thinking about me.”
That’s a special relationship.
While the Sharks first round series against the Kings didn’t end as the Nietos had hoped, they’re in a pretty good place these days. His mother, who did everything for him hockey mom’s do, is doing well.
Mother’s Day is just around corner, and it doesn’t take many chats with Matt to understand how much he appreciates what his mom has done to help him achieve his dream.
Sunday offers us all the opportunity to appreciate the sacrifices our mothers have made to help us become who we are.