After spending this strange offseason in Prague and Stockholm, Bruins right wing David Pastrnak landed in Boston a few weeks ago. The NHL will start up soon, but he didn’t return solely for hockey reasons. He also wanted to saturate his living space with the Christmas spirit.
“It’s perfect,” he told a Globe reporter over the phone Monday, assessing the sparkling 6-foot tree, the snowman made of lights standing next to it, and the various holiday ornaments dotting his downtown pad. “I spent the first two days here decorating and cleaning the house with my girlfriend. It’s my favorite holiday.”
This December, of course, has been different for everyone. Though Pastrnak is happy to spend it with his girlfriend, Rebecca Rohlsson, and their 1-year-old Aussiedoodle puppy, Eko, his mother and older brother will not come for their annual month-long stay. Video chats will have to do. Pastrnak’s mission remains the same: make their Christmas the best one yet.
This year, he has already done that for someone he has never met. Pastrnak recently gifted the new car he won for being the MVP of the NHL All-Star Game in January to an emergency room nurse at Tufts Medical Center who, like Pastrnak’s mother, is raising a child as a single mom.
Here to help
Kaitlin Hagstrom loves helping people. That’s why she studied at UMass Dartmouth and became a registered nurse. For the last three years, she has logged Zdeno Chara-like shifts in the emergency room on Washington Street.
“I can’t imagine working anywhere else. It’s the best job ever,” said Hagstrom, a 30-year-old from Saugus. “You never really know what’s coming through the door. There’s that excitement factor about it. You see all different types of things.”
She sees the relief of patients realizing they will eventually heal, the joy of families reunited, the gratitude of recovery. She also sees immense pain, grief, and loss. Never more than now.
“The amount of COVID cases coming through this door is astronomical, especially over the last few months,” she said. “There’s nothing like treating someone who says, ‘I can’t breathe,’ seeing them hunched over trying to get air. It’s horrible.”
She is proud of her team, which cares for people at their most broken and vulnerable moments, comforts anguished families, and tries to provide answers when there are none. There is strength in her voice, her demeanor, her actions. And she is hopeful. She received her first vaccine shot last week. Millions will get theirs soon.
But watching people die never gets easier.
When her 12-hour shifts end, she drives home, alone, sometimes in silence.
When she sees her son, she hugs him tightly. Every time.
“It’s always on your mind, the anxiety of dealing with this,” she said. “I’m sure a lot of nurses would say this, but when you’re lying down in bed at night, your mind is just racing. You’re constantly thinking about what happened that day, what you’ve seen. I dream about work frequently.”
She finds peace in exercise, family time, and her ambitions.
“My ultimate goal is to purchase a home for me and my son,” she said, her voice growing quieter. “I want to set some extra money aside so I can get my dream home. I want him to have the best of everything. I want to give him everything.”
In Havirov, Czechia, Marcela Ziembova had a similar drive.
As a single mother, she worked three jobs to support her family, and keep David (hockey) and Jakub (soccer) playing their favorite sports. When David was a teenager, rising in the Czech junior system, she juggled part-time work at a bus station, cleaning houses, and selling wine at a winery. To do this — and shop for groceries and run numerous other errands — she would take the bus or train. David would rise at 4:50 a.m. and lug his bag 15 minutes to the bus station for an early practice. For several years, she walked with him daily, then made ends meet.
“Hockey is a tough sport for a parent, or for a single parent, to be financing, right?” Pastrnak said. “Especially when you have another boy who plays soccer, even though that’s not as tough financially, it’s still another sport. And school. It was really tough.
“She was always there for me, and did everything she could so I could pursue my dreams and play hockey. My relationship with my mom is a huge part of my life.”
Marcela split with Pastrnak’s late father, Milan, when David was 4 and Jakub was 9. Milan Pastrnak died in 2013, some 13 months before the Bruins used the 25th overall pick to select the future Rocket Richard Trophy winner and All-Star Game MVP.
When the NHL gave Pastrnak a Honda CR-V Hybrid as a prize for winning the All-Star MVP award in St. Louis last January, he didn’t give it to his mom. He already bought her a white, four-door, Skoda sedan — the first car she has owned — after signing his second NHL contract (six years, $40 million) in 2017.
For this car, Pastrnak came up with a plan.
Per his wishes, the Bruins searched for a single mom who worked as a nurse helping COVID-19 patients. Hagstrom’s team nominated her because of her attitude, level of care, and willingness to help. Last week, she was working with a patient on a CAT scan when her manager called her, ostensibly for a performance review. She was told that the meeting would be recorded for training purposes. Once Hagstrom arrived in the conference room, she asked to sit for a video presentation. Instead of an HR rep on screen, it was her favorite Bruin. She was bewildered.
“He started talking about me, and my son Shaun” she said. “I had no idea what was going on.”
He thanked her, told her he understood the challenges she faced as a single working mom, and informed her of a waiting surprise. Hagstrom was led outside, where a shiny black SUV was parked at the curb, along with Bruins mascot Blades the Bear. Inside the trunk was a signed Pastrnak jersey, a mini-stick, and a box of new hockey equipment, all perfectly sized for 4-year-old Shaun.
“I can’t even put it into words,” she said. “For them to think of my son … it means so much to me. I’m so thankful. I’ve never had anything like this happen to me. It’s such a positive note to end a very difficult year, not just for me, but everyone. I feel so lucky.”
The car they showed her was merely a placeholder. Able to select from Honda’s online menu, she chose a large SUV, an all-black Pilot, large enough for Shaun’s future teammates and their hockey gear. Because of Pastrnak’s donation, she will put her car lease payments toward a dream house.
Shaun “sort of understands” who Pastrnak is, his mother said.
Someday, he will realize why his mom roots so hard for him, and why Pastrnak roots so hard for his mom.