LAS VEGAS — To think, Alex Pietrangelo considered hanging up his skates in November.
Given the circumstances, nobody would have blamed him.
It was over the Thanksgiving holiday when his daughter, Evelyn, came down with the flu and eventually developed encephalitis, which created a lesion on her brain. She lost control of her motor skills, including not being able to open her eyes for the first five days.
Pietrangelo and his wife, Jayne, prayed daily while facing a horrific situation no parents deserve to go through.
“It was an emotional roller coaster for us,” Pietrangelo said Friday during media day for the Stanley Cup Final. “I always tell people that was the first time I’ve ever even thought about coming back to play. Like, it wasn’t even a question.”
Again, who could blame him?
Within 24 hours, his 5-year-old daughter went from being a happy little girl anticipating Christmas lights and decorations, to laying in a hospital bed, unable to talk.
“And basically slept for 10 straight days,” Pietrangelo added. “So, life can change like that. Sometimes you take things for granted, and sometimes things like that happen and it kind of puts you back on your rear end and says, ‘Be grateful for what you have.’
“I wasn’t gonna go back until I was ready to go back. Until I knew she was good, my wife was good, and the other three were good, I wasn’t gonna go back. So, I went back when I felt like I was ready.”
Pietrangelo said the support of the organization – from owner Bill Foley on down – made things a bit easier from a professional standpoint, as he felt no pressure. What he did feel was the absence of camaraderie among teammates he has counted on for 14 seasons.
He missed being in the locker room and simply sharing a laugh with the Golden Knights, another aspect of his life he learned to appreciate a little bit more.
“Sometimes during the season, it can be a grind and my biggest thing when that happened was just, ‘I’m grateful for what I can do for a living and grateful I have a great wife and a great family,’” Pietrangelo said. “You gotta appreciate it every day ’cause before you know it, you’re not going to be playing anymore, and something can happen real quick.”
Thus, after receiving “a course of treatment” that helped eliminate the brain lesion one week later, Evelyn began progressing and was able to return home within a month.
Pietrangelo was out for just nine games in late November through mid-December and hasn’t missed a game since.
The 33-year-old defenseman tied his career high with 54 points, matching his production from 2017-18 with the St. Louis Blues over 78 games. In 16 playoff games, he has nine points (a goal and eight assists) while leading the Golden Knights with an average ice time of 23:46 per game.
But it’s more than stats and time. It’s his presence and leadership that’s felt and appreciated in the room.
“I think he’s been just a great leader, you know, he helps a lot of guys,” said Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev, who won the Cup with Pietrangelo in St. Louis in 2019. “He’s been a mentor to a lot of guys in St. Louis. I remember that he would help out everyone on the team, and, since I got here he’s just been doing the same thing. So, he’s just a really good teammate and a great leader.”
For young fathers, like teammate Chandler Stephenson, who was graced with a son in 2022, it was an eye-opener on parenting as a professional athlete.
“I think it just kind of shows the player, dad, person that he is,” Stephenson said. “He was at the hospital with his daughter, walking with her for four hours because that’s the time that he got to spend with her. And he’d be at the rink and he’d be working out, getting ready to be back at the hospital and with his family again. It’s obviously things that you never want to think of as a parent, but just kind of seeing him and what him and his wife do for their family there, it’s crazy to think, you know, that that’s how strong you have to be.
“I think it just kind of shows you the leader, everything that that he is for us. He’s unfazed by a lot of stuff, and I think that’s something that just really helped us. For him to go through that and to be what he is for us is quite amazing.”