As one of the stars of the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Sharp is used to the screaming of enthusiastic crowds and the wailing of the horn when he scores yet another goal.
But as a dad, Patrick is just getting used to another type of noise: his newborn daughter's cry.
Madelyn Grace Sharp was born on Dec. 9, 2011, in the heart of the Blackhawks' season. Her birth came on the heels of a Hawks' win in New York-and Patrick is the first to admit that all thoughts of hockey disintegrated when he heard his daughter was on her way.
"I was relieved. I was excited. I was happy," Patrick says. "Once they gave us the thumbs-up that everything was great, it was an unbelievable feeling."
For Patrick, 30, who has never felt completely comfortable holding babies for fans' pictures, the paternal instincts came immediately.
"The first time I held Madelyn, I felt good," he says. "It was natural, and I like to think I'm pretty good with her now."
Patrick's wife, Abby, wasn't surprised at his natural rapport with his daughter. The couple, who have been together since college, knew they wanted to start a family as soon as they got married in July 2010.
Plus, Abby notes, "Patrick babies our dog Shooter, so I knew he'd be a good dad."
Fatherhood has been a big change for Patrick, notably named one of the "most beautiful Chicagoans" just last year.
"I never thought I'd be on the cover of Chicago Parent magazine," he says. "But family's important to Abby and me. It's something we've wanted for a while."
That sentiment was obvious at our photo shoot, when Patrick came home from a practice at the United Center. He immediately greeted his two "girls," dropping a kiss on the head of his tiny daughter (she was 6 pounds, 2 ounces at birth).
"Coming home and seeing Abby and Madelyn here, it definitely changes things," he says. "It changes the priorities, but it changes it for the better."
But there's no need for Blackhawks fans to worry that fatherhood is making the notoriously tough player go soft. He says that although he likes road games less now that he has a baby to come home to, he doesn't see his on-ice play changing at all.
Surprisingly, Madelyn's arrival during hockey season works well with daddy duty. Patrick says that a lot of the qualities he's learned as a hockey player-sacrifice, discipline, teamwork-also apply to his role as a father. And he's determined to disprove the stereotype that professional athletes can't be good husbands and fathers, too.
So when he comes home from a game and has to wind down from his pumping adrenaline, he's taken on the nighttime feeding shift while Abby sleeps.
"I look forward to staying up late and doing the nighttime feeding," he says. "That's our quality time."
But that's not to say that Patrick has aced all of the responsibilities that come with fatherhood. Diaper-changing isn't quite his favorite chore-which he can conveniently blame on an injury that kept him sidelined from the ice recently.
"Patrick was going to get (Madelyn) in her pajamas; that was going to be his thing," Abby says with a laugh. "And every time he went to do it, if she went to the bathroom, he would run out of the room and say he didn't want to change her diaper this time, but next time."
Stinky diapers aside, the Sharps are embracing the adventure of parenthood.
"Every day, it's something new and it's something special," he says. "Even just sitting on the couch, the three of us, it's a lot of fun. Everything she does is exciting for us, whether it's a smile or a laugh or whatever."
Abby, also 30, says she's also making an effort to take that age-old advice to enjoy every moment with her daughter, because before you know it, she'll be grown up.
"When I'm getting overwhelmed or I'm overtired, I just try to remember that, and just try to cherish every moment," she says. "Because I know someday I'll look back on this and I'll wish that she was a tiny little baby again."
And who knows, someday they might have more little babies to keep that feeling alive. Abby is one of 10 children, and Patrick has an older brother, so a few more kids may be in the plans.
"More toward the two (kids)," Abby says with a wry smile.
In August, Patrick signed a contract extension to stay with the Blackhawks through the 2016-2017 season. So the Sharps are looking forward to raising Madelyn in Chicago, where they live year-round.
"I loved sports growing up, so I look forward to taking her to a game at Wrigley Field," Patrick says. "We live close to the Lincoln Park Zoo; I'm sure it will be fun to cruise around there one day. There are unlimited things to do around Chicago."
He also points to the friendly residents as an advantage of raising a family in Chicago. In fact, he says the welcome Madelyn has received is comparable to the team's big 2010 Stanley Cup win, and he's grateful for such a gracious reception.
Naturally, there are also lots and lots of trips to the United Center ahead-Madelyn's already been to her first game-for all three of the Sharps. Yes, at 6 weeks old, the tiny baby already has a pair of skates, the same kind her famous daddy wears. And Patrick says she'll be on the ice until she says she doesn't want to be.
But that's not to say that the brilliant red of her Blackhawks' gear is the only color for little Madelyn. Her bedroom is decorated in princess pink, complete with a painting of her name, accompanied, naturally, by a tiara.
Patrick describes parenthood as a journey that they'll "take in stride." It helps that Abby says Madelyn is a "pretty laid-back" baby.
She hopes that in the coming years, her daughter inherits Patrick's confidence. Patrick, for his part, wants Madelyn to receive Abby's kindness-and unbroken nose.
Like any parents, they say they want their daughter to grow up to be a good person and understand that all people are different.
Although Patrick admits to some trepidation about the teenage years-the main lesson he wants her to learn is to "stay away from the hockey players"-right now he describes his daughter simply as "perfect."
And with a couple of months until the playoffs arrive, there's still plenty of time for more excitement for the Sharps, on and off the ice.
"It's been awesome at home; it's been fun at the rink," Patrick says. "It's been a great season."
Elizabeth Diffin is Chicago Parent's assistant editor and the best aunt ever.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.