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Common tragedy forging greater bond between Tocchet, Ekman-Larsson

(AP photos)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson heard about the death of Rick Tocchet’s mom, Norma, on Wednesday, he sent his coach a simple text message.

“I just told him I was thinking about him and if he needed to talk to somebody who went through it, I’m here,” Ekman-Larsson said two hours before the Coyotes faced the Nashville Predators at Gila River Arena on Thursday. “There are always people that want to help you but they never went through anything like that so it’s kind of hard for you to take it in that they want to help you when they don’t know how you feel or how they would handle it.

“I know he’s my boss but if I can be there to help him, I want to be there. It’s about more than hockey. This is life. It’s a bigger picture.”

Norma Tocchet, 93, passed away from brain cancer in Markham, Ontario on Wednesday evening. Tocchet took a leave of absence on Monday to be with her, his brothers Andy and Dan, and other family members. Assistant John MacLean coached the team in Tocchet’s absence.

Tocchet rejoined the team at its morning skate on Thursday and coached the Coyotes game against the Predators.

“I’m a routine guy,” he said. “That’s the way my mom would want it anyway.”

Ekman-Larsson lost his mom, Annika, in March 2016, after a 10-year battle with cancer. She died two weeks before Ekman-Larsson took a leave of absence to be with his family for the final three games of the 2016-17 season. She was 51.

“I can’t even fathom,” Tocchet said of Annika’s age. “I’m blessed to have had [my mom] that long. You lose your parents at a young age, I can’t even imagine that. That’s really tough.”

Ekman-Larsson said he talked with Tocchet on Thursday morning.

“We chatted a little bit about it this morning and I read somewhere that his mom was the biggest fan of him,” Ekman-Larsson said.

“My mom was the same way. She never missed a game over here. They want their sons to be happy and keep doing what they love to do. That’s something that helps you get through it.”

Tocchet said his best memory of Norma came in junior hockey when he played for longtime NHL coach Terry Crisp and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (1981-84).

“She used to make the whole team veal sandwiches,” Tocchet said, citing his Italian heritage. “That used to get me on the power play. That’s what Terry Crisp always says. She’d be outside the bus with veal sandwiches and a bottle of wine to Terry Crisp. For some reason, I’d be on the power play the next day.”

Tocchet described himself as “a momma’s boy.” He said his mom was “as pure a hockey fan” as there was.

“She has probably watched more hockey than all of us put together,” he said. “Probably the last game she watched was about two months ago. I could tell. She always asks about hockey and when she didn’t ask anymore, I knew something was up.”

Tocchet was remarkably open about his mom and his feelings one day after she died. Ekman-Larsson said talking about his mom’s death helped him, too.

“Every time you go through something like that it’s nice to have somebody, friends or family, to talk to you,” he said. “If you keep it on the inside and don’t talk to anybody, it will be tougher to go through it and get over it or move forward. At least that’s how I feel. Maybe somebody else would feel different but once you talk about it, it’s easier for you to move forward and feel better about it.”

Ekman-Larsson has said several times that a loss of this magnitude isn’t something he’ll ever fully move past, but he said Tuesday that the loss he and Tocchet share could end up forging a stronger bond between them.

“I think it could,” he said. “Toc knows he can come to me if he’s mad or wants me to do something different and I feel the same way about him.

“I think it’s important moving forward that we have a good relationship and I feel like we have that. It takes time. I had [Dave] Tip[ett] for seven years and it took a while for us to build that chemistry, but I like everything about Toc and his system. Moving forward, I think it’s just going to get stronger and we’re going to build a better relationship.”

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