(Photo by Gerry Thomas/Calgary Flames)

As anxious as I was for my NHL debut, I was actually more nervous to ask Stephanie out on a date. We had known each other since high school, but it wasn’t until I was 19 that I asked her out. The funny thing is, I had known her for all those years when we were younger, but it only took me one date to realize she was the one.

On my way home from that first date, after I dropped her off, I actually had the thought that I was going to marry her. There was something so special about her, and I knew right away. We’ve been together ever since, and now we’re approaching nine years together.

It was easy to fall in love with Stephanie, because she stood for the same values that I did. She also grew up in a Catholic household, and our faith was a big part of our relationship. I’m so thankful God gave me a soulmate who believes in the same things I do. That aspect of our relationship is more important now than ever, because eight months ago we welcomed our daughter, Charlie Hamonic into the world.

Becoming a Dad and raising Charlie together with my wife has been the most spectacular gift that God could have given me. The delivery went smooth, and I’m so thankful that God gave us a healthy baby. One of the coolest parts about being a Dad is to pass along my faith to our baby, and seeing her get baptized was one of the best days of my life.

The interesting thing is that the older Charlie gets, the more I think about my own parents. How they would have treated situations, and what they would have done if they were in my shoes. My mom set the bar pretty high, and even though I only got to know my Dad for 10 years, I remember him being the same.

I knew what an impact my Dad had in my life, and that’s why I wanted to try and help out other kids who had experienced the same thing as me. Jesus commanded us to love your neighbors like you love yourself, and my D-Partner program is just an extension of that commandment. I know God blessed me with talent and gave me an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, so it was my responsibility to use that platform for good.

I was fortunate to have a good support system around me when I was a kid, but I know that isn’t the case for every child who loses a parent. Some kids don’t have other siblings, and some don’t have either parent. My goal with the D-Partner program is different for each kid. Sometimes it’s to give kids hope and encouragement that things will be okay. For others, it’s simply to make them smile or just take them out to a hockey game. Whatever the case is each night, I know that it’s worth doing.

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Thomas Hager