Like many Canadian youths, Florida Everblades rookie Hunter Garlent’s love for his nation’s pastime was fostered by his father. In a bittersweet fashion, Garlent’s father helped the professional hockey player through his time in junior hockey in life and to his first game as a Blade in death.
Garlent’s father, Rob, suffered a fatal heart attack in 2014 when he was 48 years old. Instead of letting it hold him back, Garlent’s love and memories of his father propelled him forward in his pro hockey career.
“He’s on my mind every game,” Garlent said. “His name is on my sticks for every game. During the national anthem, I kinda take a second to look up and just let him know that I know he’s there watching.”
And Rob made sure his son grew up loving the game as soon as possible.
“I’m assuming my first christmas there was a stick in my hand,” Garlent said.
Rob Garlent beamed with pride the day his son was drafted to the Ontario Hockey league, one of the three major junior hockey leagues in Canada.
“The time my name was called, it was a special moment,” Garlent said. “A big hug, and some tears were shed, I think a little bit, because of all the travel and time we put into it together.”
Garlent never envisioned his father not being there for every step of his hockey career, but sometimes life can be as cruel as it is beautiful. Garlent learned that lesson five years ago. Garlent was living with his billets family when he learned the news about his father’s passing.
“My billets kind of answered the phone kind of awkwardly and asked if I could hang back for a little bit, and that my family was stopping by so,” Garlent said. “It ended up being my uncle, my two brothers, and my grandfather came up to break the news.”
Rob died from his heart attack. He had no prior health issues.
“Never had a legal beer, sitting down in a restaurant with my dad,” Garlent said. “I just kind of held onto my family. Held onto those last text messages that were about, it was right after the Olympics, so I remember those last texts and just talking about hockey like we always did. So those were the memories I tried to hold on to.”
With help from his family and those memories of his dad, Garlent thrived on the ice all the way to the start of his professional career with the Florida Everglades.
“He’s such an energetic, happy person,” Blades coach Brad Ralph said. “So I think once he gets that first goal, we’ll really see that confidence and excitement in his game.”
Garlent wore No. 23 as a junior hockey player. Suiting up for the Blades, he wears No. 65 on his back for his father’s birth year.
“I think the toughest thing was the home opener,” Garlent said. “My mom actually surprised me and came down, so knowing she’s here in the crowd and he couldn’t be was obviously tough. But, like I said, I know he’s here. I know he’s supporting me every game.”
Garlent plans to start a program with the Everblades to host children who have experienced similar loss and take them to hockey games.
“You never know when that last conversation might be, so that’s been something that’s shaped me,” Garlent said. “I try and not have a bad day so definitely something special I’ve tried to take away from this situation.”