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March Mania

Off the ice, former Gopher Blake Wheeler is Mr. Mom during pandemic

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (26), a Minnesota native and former Gopher star, skates during warmup of a March 11 game. Perry Nelson / USA TODAY Sports

Blake Wheeler was chatting with some of his NHL Central Division counterparts via Zoom on Wednesday, April 1, when his 7-year-old son Louie bashfully popped into the frame.

“You know any of these guys?” the Winnipeg Jets captain asked him, pointing to Zach Parise of the Wild, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars.

His son shook his head no and hurriedly scampered away.

Such is life for the 33-year-old former Minnesota Gophers star amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Since the NHL suspended its 2019-20 season last month and subsequently instituted a self-quarantine period for players and staff, Wheeler has been confined to his home. He’s currently hunkered down in Winnipeg with his wife Sam and the couple’s three kids, making the most of these unprecedented circumstances.

“We are full-time teachers and nannies and everything else now,” said Wheeler, a 12-year NHL veteran who played for Breck in high school and then three seasons for the Gophers. “I’m more tired now than I was a few weeks ago. We’re cooking and cleaning and teaching. Just trying to keep it together as best as we can.”

That isn’t always easy with Louie and his 4-year-old sister Leni constantly bickering.

“It’s a battle,” Wheeler said, adding that 2-year-old son Mace isn’t much easier. “Since he was born he hasn’t wanted anything to do with me. Now that I’m here all the time, he’s starting to realize that I am his dad. It’s definitely interesting to see what my wife is dealing with on a daily basis.”

And, as the captain of the Jets, Wheeler has done his best to keep tabs on his teammates.

“We are pretty spread out right now,” Wheeler said. “Just checking in with guys and seeing how everyone is doing. We tried a team FaceTime at one point, and it was a mess. We probably won’t do that again.”

As the conversation progressed via Zoom, it became clear how much Wheeler missed the competitive nature of his sport. Not only did he talk at length about the Western Conference playoff picture, he started to chirp the Stars’ Benn unprompted, playfully referencing a particular game in which they nearly dropped the gloves.

“I think we faced off against each other 20 times, and he’s asked me to fight 20 times,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “It was late in a tie game, or whatever, and he’s like, ‘Are we going?’ ”

For the record, Wheeler and Benn have not fought, though neither would rule it out down the road if the 2019-20 season resumes.

In the meantime, Wheeler is trying to stay in shape as best he can, working out in the gym in his garage, and riding his Peloton bike whenever he gets a chance.

“It’s an hour or so to get away from all the other duties around the house,” he said. “Just trying to stay ready in case we get the call that things are going to come back.”

Aside from that, Wheeler and his wife have been killing time watching Netflix after the put the kids to bed. They are chipping away at Ozark right now.

“We usually get (the kids) down by 8 p.m. on a good night and then it’s like a half hour of numbness,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “I think our wine collection is getting low.”

In that moment, Parise chimed in, noting how he and his wife Alisha usually crack that bottle of wine closer to 5 p.m.

“That’s pretty impressive,” Wheeler said. “I think for us it’s started to creep in to around 3 p.m.”