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‘Her career is as important as my career’: How Jacob Trouba and Kelly Tyson balance their ambitions

They met on Halloween in 2012 at a bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jacob Trouba was dressed up as Superman; Kelly Tyson was Superwoman. They obviously found each other.

“She was a senior, I was a freshman,” Trouba says. “Make sure you put that in there, she’ll love that.”

Even as the couple began dating, their future was cloudy. Tyson, a neuroscience major at the University of Michigan, was going to Sydney, Australia, after graduation for her masters degree. Trouba, a defenseman for the Wolverines’ hockey team, was already a first-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets.

“We really couldn’t think long-term,” Tyson says. “We already knew we were going in different directions.”

They broke up. Trouba visited Tyson in Australia. They got back together. But for the next six years, their relationship would be strained by their careers. Trouba became a regular for the Jets by 2013 and was bound to Manitoba for at least eight months of the year. Tyson took a job in Washington, D.C., but dreamed of medical school. It didn’t make sense for her to apply to programs, or eventually take her boards, in Canada. After all, with the precarious nature of an NHL career, she didn’t know how long her boyfriend would even be in Winnipeg.

This summer, Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers, and subsequently signed a seven-year, $56 million deal. For the first time in their relationship, the couple, who were engaged in 2018, could begin planning a future together — in the same place. As Trouba told the Winnipeg Sun in June, “it’s a great opportunity for myself and my fiancée,” because “her career is as important as my career.”

The comments reverberated across the internet and Trouba was celebrated as a feminist. The 25-year-old was taken aback by the reaction; this is the way he has always felt. He wasn’t ungrateful for his time in Winnipeg, but the truth is, it was a lot easier on his personal life to play for an American team.

“Fans think of things in a different aspect — that’s just the nature of sports,” Trouba said. “It’s about winning a championship, it’s not about caring about people’s lives, really.”

Trouba says he didn’t publicly mention his and Tyson’s situation earlier because “I never wanted to throw her in the fire where everybody goes after her; I can take the brunt of it, especially being confident in the choices that I’m making.”

Their story, as the couple explains it, is simply a modern NHL romance that has endured extended time apart, long flights, frustrated phone calls and eventually, sacrifice.

“I think I work hard, but she works pretty dang hard too,” Trouba says. “She’s up early and staying up late studying and she deserves to see her dreams come true just as much as I do, and I want to help her just as much as she’s helped me.”

Adds Tyson: “I think he’s part of a generation where the social construct of a woman’s aspirations — career, life, et cetera — isn’t so set and rigid. I never had to ask him to make sacrifices for me. It was just expected because we were making them for each other and together.”

Trouba played a big part in Winnipeg’s transformation from bottom-feeder in the Central Division to near-wagon status. The Jets reached the Western Conference finals in 2018, and Trouba’s game-tying goal to erase a 3-0 deficit against the Nashville Predators during that playoff run was a career highlight. As was the opportunity to play in the NHL with childhood buddy Andrew Copp; the two had been teammates since they were 12 years old.

But Trouba’s time in Winnipeg wasn’t always smooth. After his third season, the defenseman requested a trade — he didn’t want to play on the left side, and on the right side, he sat behind Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the depth chart. Trouba missed the first 15 games of the season, then signed a bridge deal to stay. He says he has no regrets.

“I can’t think of anything I would really want to change,” Trouba says. “The contract stuff didn’t bother me all that much — it was something that I believed in, I thought I was doing the right thing, and that’s all I can fall back on. I thought I was making the best decision for me and my career, and I was happy with the result.”

“Everything he does, he does with a purpose, but he’s put up with a lot,” Tyson says. “There’s a notion out there that he’s a selfish person. He’s really good at blocking outside noise, but when I hear it, I get so frustrated. He’s the most selfless person I know. Any time he could tell I was struggling a bit or stressed with school, I would wake up to a text from him: ‘I’m so proud of you, you’re working so hard, it will all be worth it.'”

Through it all, Trouba relied on Tyson as a confidant. Tyson had quit her job in Washington to join Trouba in Winnipeg. The move wasn’t easy. “She was pretty stir crazy up there,” Trouba says. “She didn’t have a lot to do.”

“I wasn’t going to be happy sitting in Winnipeg without a career,” Tyson says. “And he wasn’t going to be happy seeing me do that. So it wasn’t productive for either of us.”

Tyson spent her year and a half in Winnipeg applying to medical schools, and narrowed her search to schools in Florida. Trouba had already made Fort Lauderdale his offseason base; he had a trainer and now has a home there. If Tyson went to school nearby, it could maximize the couple’s time together with limited disruption.

Tyson began at Nova Southeastern University in 2017. The first year, she tried to visit Trouba as much as her schedule would allow. “There are plenty of couples in the NHL that do long distance,” Tyson says. “But being in med school was an extra layer.”

Plus, traveling from South Florida to Winnipeg can be thorny, and lasts about 14 hours door-to-door, including connections in Chicago or Minneapolis. She tried to study on the plane, but was often exhausted. “The only flight that would get her back in time for her classes in Florida left at 6 a.m. on Sunday,” Trouba says. “I’m sure it wasn’t great for her at times, traveling more than 20 hours in a weekend just to see me.”

Last season, Tyson made the trip only three times. “It was a learning curve for both of us, and good for both of our growth because you have to completely change the way you communicate,” Tyson says. “And you have to be completely cognizant of each other’s schedules way more.”

Tyson illustrates a common scenario: Trouba would call Tyson when he woke up; she was sitting on her own studying. Trouba would go to a pregame skate, nap, and call Tyson again. She was still in the same place studying. He went to his game, and called her when he returned. She was still in the same place studying.

“It was an incredibly challenging time being apart from each other, but I think there’s a really awesome and fulfilling thing about seeing the person you love succeed at what they love to do, and that kept us each going,” Tyson says. “It’s been exhausting, but when we started to complain, we always remind each other how fortunate we are to even be in our positions, and there are far more important or challenging things going on in the world today than what we were going through … and sometimes I would tell him to shut up and let me complain for a few minutes.”

Trouba and Tyson got engaged in 2018, but decided to put off the wedding until next year. They knew this summer would be difficult, with Tyson in the heat of medical school and Trouba being a restricted free agent; the contract situation was bound to come to a head in Winnipeg.

When Trouba got a call this summer from Jets GM Kevin Chevaldayoff explaining he was going to be traded, he walked into Tyson’s room — she was studying — and simply gave her a thumbs up. She screamed.

“We didn’t really know how to react,” Trouba says, “We always envisioned it happening, but never in our wildest dreams ever figured we could be in this situation.”

Trouba is excited to be part of a Rangers team trending up; with his arrival, plus No. 2 draft Kaapo Kakko and splashy free agent Artemi Panarin, New York’s rebuild appears to be over soon.

“Culture was a big thing in Winnipeg. That got changed around, and the attitude, the work ethic of the team is a big reason why we started winning,” Trouba says. “It was awesome to be part of that transformation, when everyone is a little happier to be at the rink. I haven’t met everyone in New York yet, but it feels like that team might be getting on the same level too.”

Tyson is excited that she can hop on a plane whenever she wants, with much less of a hassle to visit her fiancé. She’ll stay in Fort Lauderdale during the season doing her rotations, and the following year will “hopefully” do her residency in New York.

“There’s so much opportunity in New York, especially in the medical field,” Tyson says. “It also poses its own challenges because it’s a very desirable and competitive place to be.”

But after the past six years, Superman and Superwoman seem poised to take on Metropolis.

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