|Several Pittsburgh Penguins dads visited the NHL Powered By Reebok store during their trip to the Big Apple.
"When Ryan was just 2 or 3, I would put him on my lap in front of the television and he'd just watch hockey with me," Dan Whitney told NHL.com. "His two brothers were into their toys, but Ryan was already learning about the game."
Today, the elder Whitney, who resides in Scituate, Massachusetts, a town 35 miles south of Boston, is delighted to have an opportunity to watch his son play the game he grew to love as a defenseman with the surging Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh, 6-3-1 over its last 10 games, is currently seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference and just one point behind top-seeded New Jersey.
Whitney was one of several Penguins' dads enjoying a reunion, of sorts, Tuesday afternoon after accepting a team invitation to join the players in New York in preparation for their critical matchup with the sixth-seeded New York Rangers. The players and their fathers also enjoyed dinner at Del Frisco's Double Steak House on Monday.
"Being from Boston, I've been to Madison Square Garden many times to see the NIT and the Big East basketball tournaments, but I've never been to a Rangers game, so it's a special treat," said Whitney, one of several fathers to also visit the NHL Powered By Reebok store Tuesday afternoon.
Last season, the Penguins invited dads on road trips into Phoenix and Dallas. Jordan Staal's father, Henry, views the get-together as an opportunity to meet and talk shop with other dads whose sons have all been through similar situations in life.
"I just love it that the Penguins do this for the families," Henry Staal said. "It's great not only to meet the dads, but meet the players in person and then go back to your son and get a feel for their character and demeanor. This way, when you're watching the game, you really feel so much more a part of the team."
Staal, who'll have two sons playing in tonight's contest, including the younger Jordan with the Penguins and the elder Marc with the Rangers, was just hoping for a clean, good game.
"I was with Jordan on Monday and saw him again at practice (at Madison Square Garden) Tuesday afternoon, so I'll probably get to talk to Marc sometime after the game," Henry Staal said. The Rangers practice facility is located in Greenburgh, N.Y.
Dan Whitney admits he still gets calls from Ryan following each game.
"He'll call me and ask; 'How'd you think I played?' " Whitney said. "You certainly don't want to say anything that would shake their confidence, but you also want to be as honest as possible. I'm the anchor man, so to speak, so I tell him I don't make the news, I just deliver the news. I have to tell him like it is."
Ryan Whitney, who is in his third NHL season, was excited to have his dad join him on the road.
"It's cool to have the dads here," he said. "They were ones driving us around growing up, so it's pretty cool for them to get to see how we live on the road and experience our schedule a little bit. It looks like (the fathers) are back at a small rink at their hometown when they're sitting in the stands. They're having a blast."
Troy Crosby, Sidney's father, didn't visit the NHL Powered By Reebok store, but did join the team at Tuesday morning's skate at Madison Square Garden. He recalls the message he gave to his son prior to his rookie season in 2005-06.
"I told him to not take things for granted and just keep working hard because if you let your guard down or take it easy, that's when you'll get in trouble," Troy Crosby said. "It's hard to get to the top and even harder to stay there, so I just reiterated to him to have fun and play hard."
The elder Crosby, who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 12th round (240th overall) of 1984 Draft, but never played in the NHL, feels his son hasn't changed a bit despite being labeled the "Face of the NHL.”
"I don't think of him as the 'Face of the NHL' when I watch him play," he admitted. "Nothing has changed really for 15 years. I just enjoy watching my son play hockey whether it was pee-wee, midget or now, in the NHL. I don't think that much about the labels and all that other stuff. Sid has always loved the game and he picked it up right away, worked hard at it and has had a lot of fun. You could tell at a very young age that he had a passion for it."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com