The morning of July 31 was unlike any Phil Esposito and wife Bridget had experienced in 13 years of marriage. • "We woke up," Bridget recalled, "looked at each other and said, 'Oh, my God, this is really happening.' " • The couple had become parents, for all intents and purposes, opening their Tampa home to 19-year-old Dylan, son of Esposito's daughter Carrie, who Jan. 30 died suddenly of an abdominal aneurysm at 43. • Talk about a mind-bending life change. • Esposito, 70, founder of the Lightning and a member of the hockey Hall of Fame, had three daughters during his first marriage, but as he has said, "I didn't raise any of my kids; my wife (Linda) did. I just played hockey."
Bridget, 54, a hair stylist and also married for the second time, has no kids, which might explain her shock at the amount of laundry the household now generates.
It is Dylan, though, who has gone through the harshest change.
"He misses his mother a lot," Phil said. "He's always talking about her. That's good, I guess."
"What I really loved was that she was always there for us," Dylan said of his mother. "We could always count on somebody to be home so we would feel safe. It's sad, but you have to move on. You have to keep your head up and just keep on living."
When Carrie died, Dylan had lost both parents. His father, Michael Wall, whom Carrie divorced in May 1996, died in April 2003.
In August 1997, with Dylan just short of his fourth birthday, Carrie married then-Lightning player Alex Selivanov. They had two children — Nikko, 14, and Roco, 10 — while Selivanov's hockey career took him to Edmonton, Columbus, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and Holland.
Dylan said he has attended 13 schools. He also speaks German and Russian.
The family finally settled in Krefeld, Germany, where Selivanov played from 2004-08 and where Carrie died.
Through it all, Selivanov, who could not be reached for comment, never adopted Dylan, whose full name is Dylan Esposito Wall.
"That's one of the reasons he's with us," Bridget said. "He needs to be with family. We're family."
Dylan said being away from his half-brothers is difficult; he last saw them at the end of July when they and Selivanov ended a six-week Tampa visit.
"We all have to be stronger," Dylan said. "I'm just trying to get on my feet again."
Dylan said it was his decision to move to the United States, because "schools here are better than in Germany" and "I've always loved it here in the U.S."
He plans to attend Hillsborough Community College in January. More immediate goals are to get a driver's license — "Here in Florida, nobody walks because it's way too freakin' hot," he said — and perhaps play some community hockey. His favorite position is left wing.
The changes were a bit more jarring for Phil and Bridget, who all of a sudden were part of searches for colleges and driving schools.
"That was a big adjustment for us," Bridget said. "And, oh, my God, do I do laundry. (Dylan) came with three hockey bags filled with clothes, and I didn't know what was clean or dirty, so I just cleaned it all."
"Quite frankly," Phil added, laughing, "you don't have the privacy you had before. I've walked around the house naked many times with my wife. I didn't care. But now I don't do that. I can't."
Some things stayed the same, such as Phil being the household food shopper and cook. Dylan's favorite Caesar salad has been added to the regular menu.
Dylan calls Esposito "Poppy." Bridget is "BeBe."
"When I played, I always tried to turn every negative into a positive, and that was a big negative," Phil said of Carrie's death. "The positive is I got to know my grandkids a hell of a lot better. I got to know what my daughter was all about, too."
"He's such an incredibly good boy," Bridget said of Dylan. "I think Phil and I and all the family are going to have a positive influence on his life."
Researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.