Lightning founder Phil Esposito said he expects the phone in his Tampa home to ring at any moment.
On the other end will be his daughter, Carrie, telling him reports of her death were a cruel joke.
"I'm having major difficulties with this," Esposito told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. "I'm just in shock. I cannot believe it even as I sit and talk to you. I expect her to call me and start saying, 'April fool.' "
Carrie, 43, who was married to former Lightning star Alex Selivanov, died Monday, apparently from a sudden illness, Esposito said.
The couple had two children: Nikko, 13, and Rocco, 9. Dylan, 18, was Carrie's son from a previous marriage. They lived in Krefeld, Germany, where Selivanov played from 2003-08.
"I can't believe this," Esposito said he told Alex when his son-in-law called with the news. "I cannot believe this."
The story of how Carrie died still is sketchy, said Esposito, who plans to fly to Germany this week to get more details and the results of an autopsy. But he also said he knew something was wrong because about 10 days ago Carrie "coughed up some blood."
"But she refused to go to the doctor," Esposito said. "She refused to go to the hospital. 'I'm fine. I'm taking the kids to practice.' That's all I know."
Esposito said when he last spoke to Carrie about four days ago, "She never said a word. She said she was fine."
Esposito said Alex Selivanov was with the children at a local hockey rink when a neighbor who was supposed to visit Carrie found her in the family home in distress.
Carrie went by ambulance to a hospital where she was put into a coma to stabilize her. She died soon after.
"I just remember a little tiny person just like her mom," said friend Becky Cashman D'Aiuto. "She had this tenacious personality, just like her dad; definitely tenacious and not afraid or intimidated by anything."
D'Aiuto was the Lightning's publication manager while Carrie, from 1992-96, was the organization's first director of team services, responsible for scheduling the players' travel for road trips.
Video coach Nigel Kirwan also was part of what he called "a small core group of us in our early 20s trying to solve this hockey thing in Florida. … (Carrie) worked hard. She was in on the ground floor helping her father to get the organization up and running."
Of her death, Terry Crisp, the Lightning's first coach, said, "It was like a member of your family is gone."
Esposito said he is not quite sure how he is keeping his emotions in check, considering that just a few weeks ago his former wife, Linda, Carrie's mother, died of emphysema.
He said he has spoken to Alex Selivanov at least five times, and he has tried to help make the kids understand death is part of life.
One thing Esposito said he does not understand: "You're not supposed to live longer than your children."
Times staff writer Tom Jones contributed to this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]