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  • Player reunited with father

    Player reunited with father
    An unforgettable time A Herring at heart Blending a family

    [email protected]

    The horn signaling the end of the period blared, and David Herring skated off
    the ice, as he has hundreds of times over the past 15 years.

    But two simple words from a mysterious man holding a gift package turned the
    routine walk to the dressing room into a life-changing moment for Herring, a
    forward for the Erie Otters.

    "It's Dan," the man said to Herring on Feb. 22 — his 20th birthday — during
    that hockey game in Toronto.

    "Right away I knew who it was, and I was stunned," Herring said. "I was
    shocked. I didn't know what to say.

    "It's difficult, even now, to think about," Herring said. "It gets me

    Hours after meeting Dan Hopkins for the first time, other doors began to open
    into Herring's family history.

    As a child in the small town of Murray River, Prince Edward Island, and then in
    Peterborough, Ontario, he was one of Garry and Cathy Herring's four children.
    He was Scott's and Clint's and Crystal's brother, with family stretching from
    Oklahoma to eastern Canada.

    He also knew he was PEI resident Nancy Wood's son, adopted by the Herrings at

    The rest of his family history remained a "real puzzle that had the pieces
    missing all those years," said his maternal grandmother, Faye Cantelo.

    Herring recently has been introduced not only to Hopkins, but also to other
    members of his family.

    There's Cantelo and Wood's adoptive parents, Milton and Lilian Wood, as well as
    his biological sister, Carolyn Strickland. And now he is learning about his
    father's family, which includes Herring's grandmother, Hilda Woolnough, whom he
    calls the "Wayne Gretzky of art" in Canada.

    "That's a real difficult thing to adjust to, to meet everyone and talk about
    all that kind of stuff," Herring said. "But it's a good feeling to know they're
    around, thinking about me."

    Until Nancy Wood, Herring's biological mother, contacted Hopkins in August, he
    was unaware of the life Herring had constructed.

    Shortly after his son's birth, Hopkins had left Prince Edward Island, a
    140-mile-long summer tourist destination near Nova Scotia that is Canada's
    smallest province. He had no idea his son grew up to be a junior hockey player
    or that he had been selected by the Otters in the 2000 Ontario Hockey League

    "I really didn't know anything about him," Hopkins said. "So it's very
    exciting. He's quite the guy."

    Hopkins already feels a connection to his son, especially through his laid-back
    personality and his natural hockey and athletic skills.

    The birthday gifts Hopkins gave to Herring — a painting done by Herring's
    paternal grandfather, Dennis Hopkins, and a book on his grandmother's artistic
    works — provided another connection to the family. Herring has nurtured his
    artistic skills over the years, hauling his drawing pad wherever his family

    "I'm really into art," Herring said. "So it's real weird that my real
    (grandparents were) into art."

    In July, he felt a connection with his biological sister, Carolyn Strickland,
    the moment they met.

    "We looked at each other and then we walked up to each other and hugged each
    other," said Strickland, 18, who lives with her adoptive family in Dartmouth,
    Nova Scotia. "We didn't even say a word."

    Strickland's adoptive mother, Pam Strickland, had learned about Herring from
    Nancy Wood; shortly before Carolyn Strickland turned 18, Pam Strickland called
    up the Otters' Web site and pointed out his photo.

    "I just sat there and stared at (his picture) for a while," Carolyn Strickland

    Strickland wrote Herring a letter, and Herring called her as soon as he read
    it; they clicked immediately.

    "He's so much like me, in looks and the way he acts," said Strickland, one of
    two sisters Herring has met. "We're the exact same person."

    Cathy Herring didn't want another child, Garry Herring said, after their
    1-year-old daughter died after contracting brain meningitis in 1982.

    But Garry Herring said he "pushed the issue," and on Feb. 22, 1984, David was
    born and was welcomed into the family. From then on, "he just fit in with the
    rest of the kids," Garry Herring said.

    For years, classmates in Murray River thought Herring and his older brother,
    Clint, were twins. They looked remarkably alike, acted the same, even bickered
    the same way, said Clint Herring, now 23.

    One day in high school, Clint Herring revealed his brother's adoption to
    friends during an argument. "(They) didn't believe it," Herring said.

    The Herrings were inseparable, especially during the winter, when they headed
    to Murray River ponds to play hockey.

    At age 7, David Herring scored 162 goals in 50 novice-level games. After that,
    some teams didn't want to face the high-scoring phenom.

    When he wasn't dominating on the ice, he was honing his skills at home, firing
    pucks at targets attached to an old sofa. By spring, only splinters and foam

    Then, at age 10, his big break arrived. After playing one game for a
    Peterborough minor team, Herring was offered a chance to join that team — if
    he moved to Peterborough.

    "My brothers and sister didn't want to do it," Herring said. "But my sister has
    said to me, 'If we wouldn't have moved here, I wouldn't have met my husband.'
    She said thank you."

    Nancy Wood understood the move was the best thing for David. Even when she
    lived near her son on Prince Edward Island, she didn't force herself into his
    life. She baby-sat for the Herrings after David's adoption, as she had done for
    the family before he was born.

    "It was hard. I regret (the adoption) to this day," said Wood, 40. "I knew they
    would be able to give him what I couldn't."

    Cathy and Garry Herring have since divorced, and Cathy Herring has returned to
    Oklahoma. David Herring has made one trip to Oklahoma since coming to Erie. "I
    totally consider Cathy my mom," he said. "That's who I learned everything

    The family ties are sometimes tough to consider, though.

    "I've been trying to keep that aside for now," David Herring said. "I'll worry
    about that after the season's over. I'll have lots of time then."

    Herring returned to Prince Edward Island in August to play in a charity game
    sponsored by his newfound second cousin, Brad Richards of the NHL's Tampa Bay
    Lightning. Herring invited Nancy Wood and Carolyn Strickland, then sat them
    next to each other for the first time since Nancy had given up her daughter for
    adoption at birth.

    "I have pictures with both of them crying and me smiling," Herring said.

    Herring also spent time that day with Cantelo, his maternal grandmother, for
    the first time since he was 4. Milton and Lilian Wood saw him for the first
    time since the Herrings had moved to Peterborough. They came together again in
    Kitchener on Nov. 7 for an Otters game. An injured Herring sat in the crowd
    with family members.

    Then came the family reunion in Toronto in February. The highlight for Herring
    was introducing his adoptive father to his newfound father.

    "I know where I stand with David because I'm his dad," Garry Herring said. "We
    have that kind of relationship. But he's got his blood (relatives), too. He
    loves them. He loves talking to them. He loves e-mailing them. That's healthy.

    "Now he's got such a big family."

    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
    be sitting next to you saying, "**** . . . that was fun!"