When Blackhawks center Dylan Strome adopted a golden retriever puppy during the All-Star break, he hoped his new dog — promptly named Wrigley — would keep the mood light during the ups and downs of his NHL seasons.
Little did he know that Wrigley would soon become his every-day companion and source of entertainment through his longest stretch away from hockey.
“I feel a little bit bad for him,” Strome said this week. “He’s in his sixth house now, and he’s only 6 months old. He’s moved around a lot.”
When the season paused March 12, Strome — along with his girlfriend and Wrigley — initially planned to stay in Chicago. But as the coronavirus situation in Illinois and across North America rapidly worsened, Strome decided his childhood home of Mississauga, Ontario, was the best bet.
“When we heard the borders might close, it felt like a race to get home,” Strome said. “We just decided to get a rental car and drove back. It was all within a matter of less than 24 hours.”
They rented an Airbnb to quarantine for two weeks. Then that rental ran out, so they moved into what was supposed to be Strome’s summer home.
All the while, Strome had none of his equipment, and no rinks at which to skate even if he did have it.
“That might’ve been the longest anyone — at least me, personally — has been off the ice since I was maybe 9 or 10 years old,” he said.
Instead, for two months, the pending restricted free agent was forced to keep in shape by running and roller-skating around the block, using a newly purchased Peloton bike and doing workouts over Zoom with Hawks trainer Paul Goodman.
“It was definitely something none of us has ever lived through and might not have to live through ever again,” he said. “If there was a positive thing about it, I got to spend some time with family, and everyone got through it together.”
That included his brother Ryan, a breakout star for the Rangers this season, celebrating the mid-quarantine birth of his daughter May 17.
It also included Wrigley doubling in age and weight, from an adorable, “little crazy” puppy — as Strome described his new best friend back on March 8 — to a nearly full-grown dog.
“He’s not the tallest,” Strome said. “But he’s 60-plus pounds right now at 6 months old. His parents were around 90 to 100 pounds, so we don’t know exactly how big he’s going to get, but probably somewhere around there.”
Wrigley’s social-media fame has grown as exponentially as his weight: The account, run by Tayler McMahon, Strome’s girlfriend, has more than 9,000 Instagram followers. He’s even closing in on the DeBrindogs — Alex DeBrincat’s account for his Shiba Inu, Ralph, and new puppy Burt — and their 12,300 followers.
But are they rivals? Not quite.
“They’re friends, actually,” Strome said with a laugh in March.
The friendship included a canine reunion last Thursday — only one day after Strome made his own return to Fifth Third Arena, joining the Hawks’ small but growing contingent of players practicing together again.
Now Strome is simply waiting to see if actual hockey can return.
“If you would’ve asked me a few days ago, I would’ve said it seems pretty safe,” he said. “Now it’s definitely difficult to say because everything’s changing so fast. [Auston] Matthews got it the other day, and a few guys on Tampa Bay have gotten it.
“If it’s safe, you want to get back to playing hockey — that’s what we all miss doing and love to do. But if there’s some doubt, I think guys have families and kids and have to look at the future, as well. It’s definitely up in the air, and it’s not really for me to decide.”
Regardless of the outcome, he’ll at least have a cuddly, playful 60-pound ball of affection to carry him through.