MONTREAL – Some experiences last a lifetime, especially when family is involved.
For the men who took part in the Canadiens’ 2013 father/son road trip to Minnesota and Colorado, the opportunity to see the ins-and-outs of life on the road and spend time with their prides and joys on their turf provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past, enjoy the present and look forward to what the future has in store.
Forty guests of Canadiens players and staffers boarded the team charter en route to the Twin Cities on Oct. 31 for a three-day window into what NHL life on the road is all about. The once-in-lifetime experience was something those in attendance will never forget.
“Just the fact that the Canadiens organization gave us the opportunity to experience what the players experience over the course of three days was, in my opinion, unbelievable, above the call of duty and every sort of superlative you want to have,” offered Ian Gallagher, who watched his son, Brendan, score two goals in two games during the two-game road swing. “They’ve given us an opportunity not many people experience.”
According to Karl Subban, who will one day boast three sons in the NHL ranks, including reigning Norris Trophy winner, P.K., the Habs’ road trip initiative extends far beyond participating in the activities listed on the itinerary.
“I look at it as my son had a dream of playing in the NHL, but people forget that the fathers have dreams, too. Obviously, one of those dreams is to watch them play at home and the other is to go with them on the road,” offered Subban, who drove his boys to Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square as kids so they could hone their hockey skills free of charge. “The Canadiens really helped all the dads fulfill that dream. I really feel like I’m a part of the family.”
In addition to taking in games at both the Xcel Energy Center and Pepsi Center, guests were given an all-access pass to attend everything from practices to pre-game meetings. They also took part in a Gangster Tour of Saint Paul and visited the Coors Brewery in Denver. Group activities were scheduled in an effort to make everyone feel right at home while on the road.
For hockey dads in particular, the trip held special meaning. Years removed from building up calluses lacing up their sons’ skates in the confines of cold arenas from Anahim Lake, BC to Bromma, Sweden, the proud papas relished the opportunity to relive many of the moments that forged the foundation of their child’s NHL career.
“It just brings you back to when your kids were in minor hockey. Dads are always the same, no matter what league their sons are playing in,” noted Jerry Price, who played an instrumental role in helping to develop his son, Carey, into a three-time NHL All-Star, flying him to practices and games in Williams Lake, BC, just over 300km from the family home. “It just kind of takes you back to his younger days.”
Traveling alongside his son Brian on the road for the first time since the Canadiens’ captain joined the NHL ranks back in 2001-02, Sam Gionta couldn’t help but reminisce about years gone by, noting that things have certainly changed since the Stanley Cup champ was playing minor hockey in his hometown of Rochester, NY.
“The accommodations on the road are great. The food is great. It’s a far cry from driving to tournaments,” joked Gionta, who bunked with the forward for the duration of the trip. “Since he’s been pro, you don’t get to be as close as you would when they were in youth hockey and college. It’s nice to be back in the same room with him again. I don’t think he appreciated it because I snore, but it was a great experience.”
“I think the players feel proud of the fact that they could show their fathers what it’s like on the road,” added Gionta. “They’re treated very well on these trips.”
Like the players, who bond over the course of a lengthy NHL season – particularly on extended road trips – the Canadiens’ dads quickly discovered how much they had in common, forging friendships they intend to carry on during future trips to the rink.
“The one thing you learn on trips like these is that everyone is a family. That’s the thing that really stands out. We know we’re here because of the players, but then there’s a bigger family: the Canadiens family,” underlined Subban, a recently-retired school principal. “We’re all wearing the same jersey; we’re all wearing the same colors; we all have the same symbol on the front of our jerseys. This is a stamp that we’re a part of the Canadiens family.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.