On Willa Davidson’s changing table sits a game-used puck from the Blackhawks-Hurricanes game Dec. 27, 2022.
Willa — Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson’s daughter — was all of three hours old when that puck initially hit the ice in Raleigh. Her parents watched the game on TV from their hospital room in Chicago.
Willa wasn’t quite capable of watching with them, of course. Later in the season, she graduated to attending the start of a few games at the United Center, donning earmuffs to allow her to enjoy the lights and commotion. But she hasn’t come to truly appreciate the puck yet.
“The number of times she has kicked it onto the floor and it has rolled around, I can’t even count,” Davidson said with a laugh.
This past season was special for Davidson, not only because it was his first full year as an NHL GM, but also because he became a first-time father during it. Not many peers have experienced anything close to that kind of overlap, but then again, not many peers became GMs at age 33 like he did.
And thanks to the constant help of his wife, Angelica — “If we were drafting moms, she’d be first overall,” he quipped — he managed to successfully juggle the endless time commitments on both fronts.
“We didn’t know what was coming our way once the baby was born, and that certainly held true,” he said. “It was definitely a whirlwind. But we had prepared both at the office and at home to make that transition as smooth as possible. It’s never easy with a newborn in the house — your lifestyle and how you operate completely flips overnight — and we managed that as best we could.
“I want to be an active parent and I want to share in that responsibility, so that just goes with the territory — being up and helping out. Whether that’s up late or up early, that’s what I want to do. It just happens that time of year [in the Hawks’ schedule also] breeds a lack of sleep based on the pace and workload. It was a little bit of two worlds colliding.”
Simply thinking of such things in terms of their alignment (or lack thereof) with the NHL calendar is a little strange, if nonetheless necessary. Davidson has decided he probably doesn’t want to do it again this way.
“We joked that maybe we have to be more strategic when we plan a birth next time,” he added.
Considering Davidson’s job, however, there really isn’t much free time to work with year-round. Even on Father’s Day on Sunday, he might need to cram some last-minute Hawks draft-prep conversations into his shifts on baby duty.
Luckily, he has grown accustomed to multitasking. The Hawks were on Christmas break during the final days of Angelica’s pregnancy and on the road for two more games after Willa’s birth, but since the calendar turned to 2023, Davidson has been continuously busy coordinating the Hawks’ full-scale rebuild.
During a West Coast trip leading up to the trade deadline in late February, Davidson mentioned feeling particularly tired. It turns out that wasn’t solely because of the time-zone difference. In Chicago, his conversations with other GMs and agents often have included some background noise.
“I’ve just come to terms with the fact that I’m going to have to be on the phone, making calls, with a baby potentially yelling in the background,” he said. “Every time my phone rings, I don’t want to run away if I’m taking care of Willa. It might involve hopping on a call with earbuds while changing diapers or playing on the play mat. It’s just the new world I live in.
“And actually, every time it’s happened, it’s a funny, nice talking point. You can connect on a different level with whoever you’re speaking to because you get into the family side of things.”
(Davidson insists he hasn’t traded or signed anyone with Willa in his lap. He just has held more casual, talking-things-through conversations. There’s a first time for everything, though.)
Fifteen months into his permanent GM tenure, he has noticed the Hawks’ machine “starting to run much more efficiently,” largely because the staff around him has been fully fleshed out and settled in.
That increasing stability is giving him comfort and confidence as the pivotal week of the offseason approaches.
His work trip to Nashville for the draft June 28-29 will require some extra planning with Angelica — just as his trip to Switzerland for the under-18 world championship did in April, for example — but that’s nothing new for them at this point.
They’re lucky Willa has matured into a relatively quiet, well-behaved and easily entertained baby. Her favorite pastime seems to be watching cars drive past. She appreciated a trip to the bowling alley last weekend just as much as she appreciated the first period of the Hawks’ season finale against the Flyers.
“She’s pretty easygoing,” Davidson said. “It makes it easier on the parents when you’ve got a baby that smiles far more than she cries.”
And while her presence certainly has complicated Davidson’s day-to-day schedule, it also has injected plenty of joy and harmony into his otherwise hectic, ultra-competitive lifestyle.
Such humanizing moments always have been important to him. He said last summer he typically found them when visiting his childhood home near Sudbury, Ontario — a region full of hiking and fishing spots. Now he finds them after work every single night.
“Even if I’m a little worked up from whatever was happening that day, [once I’m] playing with the baby and taking care of what needs to be taken care of, it’s a great distraction,” he said. “I’m not just going home and hanging out with [Angelica] and letting my brain keep focusing on the business side of things.
“When you’ve got the baby, you’ve got to be fully focused, and it’s a great way to get out of that work mindset.”