By Hannah Goldman | Photo contributions by Ross Dettman
Their wedding back in August of 2007 made headline news. Toronto Maple Leafs forward Johnny Pohl married the 2006 U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team captain Krissy Wendell. Before long, Krissy was pregnant with their daughter, Emily, and every decision about hockey became a family decision. Johnny wouldn’t have it any other way.
After the 2007-08 season in Toronto, the Pohl family decided to go abroad. Johnny wasn’t sure how much longer he would continue playing, and heading to Switzerland seemed like the best option for them at the time.
“We went over there and it was a really good experience; we had a good time in Europe,” Pohl said. “When I was over there, [former Wolves Head Coach] Don Granato called me. He told me that he was the coach here and if I ever wanted to come back, to just let him know.
“It was a good experience in Europe, but we missed being close to home,” he continued. “Our daughter was two months old and she hardly ever saw her grandparents, so that was tough. So, we made a decision that we were going to play in the States to be closer to home. Anyone that I have ever talked to has said that [Chicago] is a great organization. And for us, it is close to home, so when I go on the road, Krissy can just drive home and be with the family. It was 100% a family decision, but it was a great hockey opportunity, too.”
Pohl has had numerous great hockey opportunities throughout his career. But growing up, all the Rochester, Minn., native wanted to do was make his high school varsity team and play in the state tournament. Professional hockey wasn’t even on his radar.
“I grew up in southern Minnesota and back then we didn’t have cable TV, so I never watched the NHL,” Pohl reminisced. “My dad was a high school coach and teacher, and all I ever really wanted to do was make varsity and play in the state hockey tournament. Once I did that and had some success, I really wanted to play for the [Minnesota Golden] Gophers. They are as big in Minnesota as the NHL.”
Pohl got his wish. While at Minnesota, not only did the budding star get to don the Minnesota “M” on his jersey, but he started dreaming of the pros, met his future wife, and was named to the 2002 NCAA All-Tournament team while helping lead the Gophers to the National Championship his senior season.
“Being able to do that was a dream,” he said. “My experience at Minnesota was great. I got my degree, and we won the National Championship my last year -- and we won it in Minnesota, too. That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Johnny turned pro once he graduated, and spent a few years with the Worcester IceCats of the American Hockey League before being traded from St. Louis to Toronto and breaking through to the NHL.
“I went to a good situation, worked really hard, and then eventually got to play two-plus years [for Toronto],” said the 30-year-old. “It was awesome. To play for that team, too, was amazing. They are so high profile. Hockey in Canada is insane to say the least. So it was a cool experience.”
Be that as it may, even cooler for Pohl was the start of his family. After a year in Switzerland and Sweden with Krissy and their baby daughter, Johnny decided to return to the States and, with another daughter due in May, the couple couldn’t be happier here in Chicago.
“Chicago has been everything that everyone told me it would be,” said Pohl. “I wanted to play here because, first off, it is a first-class organization and we get treated fantastic. Secondly, they are always competing for a championship and it is close to home. It has been great for my family. We have been treated great, and our team is winning. So that is really all you can ask for.”
Another area where Pohl considers himself lucky is to have a wife who understands the rigors of an elite athlete. Krissy knows how tiring Johnny’s job can be, and is thankful that she can understand Johnny’s need to take an afternoon nap instead of shopping at the mall.
Krissy, however, thinks it might not always work in his favor.
“I think it goes both ways,” Krissy said. “I think sometimes I’m not as sympathetic because I think, ‘Well I did it, and I wasn’t that tired.’
“But looking at it, I do know how tired he is and how much of a grind it is,” she continued. “My experience was just completely different than his; I wasn’t playing nearly as many games. So I am just like every other wife in ways because it is hard to understand the travel and also hard to imagine having a family to try and take care of
and balance out at the same time.”
“Johnny is wonderful,” she said. “He comes from a very family oriented background. He definitely incorporates into his decisions about where we live, what the schedule is going to be like, the travel – he always makes sure that we are taken care of and that we are happy. He is just a good guy like that. I give a lot of credit to him.”
When asked if such a long season takes a toll on him, Johnny once again goes back to his family.
“When I was in Worcester and living by myself – no wife or family – I found that I was waiting for the season to end,” Pohl said. “But when you have your own family, it doesn’t matter where you are. As long as they are around, it is going to be great.
“Our baby is due in May, and we have our lease here through May. So Krissy and the babies will go home June 1st, no matter what. If I am here for two weeks by myself, that is fine. It would be a win-win!”
Olympian or Mom, Krissy Wears Both Crowns With Pride
In February of 2002, Krissy Pohl was gearing up for her first Olympic experience as a member of the U.S. Women’s hockey team. After taking home the silver medal in Salt Lake City, Krissy continued to grow as a player and four years later, heading to Torino, Italy, for the 2006 Winter Games, she was the captain, and led the U.S. to the bronze medal.
In between, she led the University of Minnesota to both the 2004 and 2005 Division I National Championships, and was awarded with the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2005 as the nation’s top female collegiate hockey player. But these days, her titles have shifted to wife and mother.
“[Her hockey career] isn’t something I ever really think about,” said her husband, Wolves center Johnny Pohl. “We don’t really talk about it. She hasn’t played in three years now, so it is weird to even think that she did play. She likes being a mom now.”
For her part, Krissy is happy hanging up her skates to raise her kids.
“I don’t really miss it,” she said. “I guess there are a few times where I think, ‘Oh, it would be fun to play in a game here or there.’ But, knowing how much of a commitment it is and how much work goes into it, I am pretty happy with having a family. When I moved on, I was really ready to move on. So I am really happy with where I am and can’t complain.”
That does not mean she doesn’t appreciate everything she has accomplished and what it meant to represent her country on an international stage. Krissy looks back on her experience in the Olympics and knows how special it was – and how lucky she was – to have had the chance to compete at an Olympics in her home country.
Even though she has moved on, Krissy tries to give back to the sport as much as she can. Both she and Johnny – along with other Wolves players – attended the Wolves fourth annual “Hockey for Her” event on Feb. 23, and the women were thrilled to meet the Olympian.
“I love doing this stuff,” said Krissy. “I try to give back as much as I can. It is hard when you have a young kid, but I love to do events like this. It is great to see how much the sport has grown. I was doing my own hockey camp for a couple of years, but both pregnancies have landed during the week I did it, so we said that we will figure it out once we have settled some place.”
For now, Krissy is enjoying time with her family and is content to watch her former teammates on TV. With her playing career behind her and her family at her side, Krissy couldn’t be more excited about what lies ahead.