Feb 23, 2022
By: Mitchell Courtney
The rigors of a professional hockey schedule can have a profound impact on an athlete’s physical and mental wellbeing. For this reason, many professional hockey players depend on a strong familial support system. For Iowa Wild defenseman Dakota Mermis, this rings especially true.
On Dec. 10, 2021, Mermis’ wife Sarah gave birth to the couples’ first child, Brooks Alexander Mermis, at 8:04 am Of the many challenges they have faced since he was born, choosing a name for Brooks was the first.
“There is really no specific meaning to the name, but it is a name that Sarah and I have always liked,” Dakota said. “We did not decide fully on his name until we met him, and as soon as we saw him, we knew that it would fit him perfectly.”
In the days, weeks and months leading up to the birth of Brooks, Dakota and Sarah were dealing with the many uncertainties that all first-time parents face.
“I did not really know what to expect throughout the pregnancy process, but when he was born it was just a crazy whirlwind of emotions,” Dakota said. “There was so much anticipation leading up to it because he is our first.”
After dealing with waves of uncertainty and anticipation in the leadup to Brooks’ birth, they both had a moment to reflect on the moment they held their son for the first time.
“When he came out, everything calmed down and I got to hold him. It was amazing,” Dakota said. “Everyone says it, but you just cannot explain what it feels like to hold your own child for the first time.”
“As soon as he was born there was a feeling of serenity,” Sarah said. “All we could think about after that was that he was with us and that nothing else mattered. It was the most incredible feeling.”
After Brooks was born, The Mermis family was thrust back into the realm of professional hockey. On Dec. 30, 2021, Dakota was recalled by the Minnesota Wild just 19 days after he and Sarah welcomed Brooks into the world. When Dakota and Sarah got the news, they rounded up Brooks and their two dogs, Kaizer and Charlie, and headed to the hotel they would be staying at.
“Being in a hotel with a newborn baby and two dogs was tough,” Dakota said. “Life in a hotel gets more challenging with each member we add to our family. It is certainly a lot tighter in the hotel than it is at home, but that is the lifestyle of a professional hockey player. You just make it work.”
With a newborn baby in tow, the Mermis family has a little less space and time to solve the logistical challenges of packing up the family and moving on a moment’s notice.
“When he gets called up by Minnesota it is so exciting,” Sarah said. “It is a little chaotic, especially now that we have Brooks, because we cannot move quite as fast. It takes a little bit more time to get everything figured out.”
As they squeezed their growing family into a hotel room, the Mermis’ excitement grew as they knew they would have the chance to participate in the Winter Classic festivities at Target Field in Minneapolis. Along with the excitement came some tentativeness due to their lack of experience in traveling with Brooks.
“When we went up to Minnesota for the Winter Classic, it was really only the second time we had left the house with Brooks for an extended period of time,” Sarah said.
Dakota and Sarah embraced the challenge and reveled in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the Winter Classic.
“Although it was challenging, it was cool for all of us to be up in Minnesota for the Winter Classic,” Dakota said. “We took some really awesome pictures that I think Brooks will look back on and think are pretty cool.”
Moments like the ones the Mermis family experienced in Minnesota are special, and earning a recall to the NHL is something all American Hockey League players work towards. However, the travel and the daily grind of the lifestyle of a professional hockey player can be grueling. Dakota noted that through it all, he has been impressed with how his wife has handled all of the adversity and change in their lives.
“It is certainly harder on Sarah than it is on anyone else,” he said. “When I am at the rink everything feels normal, and our biggest challenge in the first few weeks was just learning Brooks’ routine. She has been there when I could not be and I could not be more grateful for that.”
Much like Dakota, Sarah credits her other half for the success and collaboration they have had throughout their journey with Brooks.
“Dakota is super supportive of me and he always wants to do his part to make it work,” Sarah said. “He will come home from the rink and take the dogs out for some exercise or take Brooks and tell me to go take a shower or a nap. He is such a hard worker and he just wants to make everybody happy.”
Though they both took on the challenge of getting used to Brooks’ habits and routines, Dakota mentioned that Brooks has adapted well in spite of the fact that his parents live an unpredictable and ever-changing lifestyle.
“Brooks has just kind of molded right into our lives,” Dakota said. “We just threw him right into the lifestyle and he has made it work.”
Part of the AHL lifestyle includes travel that often prevents Dakota from being with his family as much as he would like. With Brooks growing so rapidly in his early days, Dakota often notices his growth upon returning home from road trips with the team.
“There was one road trip early on where Dakota did not see Brooks for three days and when he finally saw him, he just wanted to cuddle him,” Sarah said. He came home and said ‘[Brooks] looks so different already.’ He loves spending time with Brooks so road trips can be really hard.”
To Sarah, there is no other person she would rather be experiencing some of life’s biggest moments with than Dakota. She noted that he has been an attentive and loving father throughout the entire process.
“He was a little nervous changing Brooks’ diaper for the first time, but we were both just trying to figure everything out together,” Sarah said with a chuckle. “[Dakota] has been a natural as a father.”
For Dakota, the appreciation he has for Sarah and his entire family for supporting him and his career over time is immense.
“[Sarah] has been crucial to my success on and off the ice,” Dakota said. “I am so lucky to have such a strong support system. Sarah and my family have definitely been there for me when I have needed them.”
Throughout his career, Dakota and Sarah have faced many challenges, but he noted that parenthood has been the most significant.
“It is one of the most challenging and rewarding things we have ever done,” Dakota said. “It can be very difficult, but the first time Brooks cracked a smile and started laughing was one of the coolest experiences we have ever had. I just melt when I see him smile.”