FORT LAUDERDALE - Bruce Waechter stands outside a practice rink in Florida and does a big fist pump through the air.
"That's what I did when Robert (Thomas) called and asked me if I wanted to come on the Dad's Trip," Waechter told stlouisblues.com. "I'm a calm and laid back type of person all the time, OK? I'm not the rambunctious type. But the insides of me just got so excited."
Typically, Waechter wouldn't be the one to get that phone call. But because Thomas' dad was on a business trip to Amsterdam, the Blues rookie invited his grandpa on the team's annual Dad's Trip instead.
The trip starts in Fort Lauderdale for Tuesday's meeting with the Florida Panthers and continues onto Tampa Bay for Thursday's game.
"When I found out about the trip, I obviously wanted my dad to come, but he was away on business, so it was a great opportunity to invite my grandpa," Thomas said. "He's always been there supporting me through hockey and for every tournament, he's been there for me. It was pretty cool to be able to invite him for this. From the moment I told him, I could tell how excited he was."
Call it a reward for all the support over the years, but Waechter has certainly had a hand in his grandson's success and has earned a trip like this one.
He helped build the backyard rink that Thomas learned to skate on. Because their backyard in Aurora, Ontario was on a hill, extra plywood was needed to help even things out, and half the rink required more water than the other side. After two years of a somewhat uneven ice surface and a near-accident that could have flooded their house and a good chunk of the neighborhood, Thomas' dad and grandpa decided it was time to resod the lawn and level things out once and for all.
"I used to go down with my pickup truck and pick up the lumber [for the rink] in the spring and take it to my brother's farm and store it there," Waechter said. "I'd take it back in the fall and then we put up the rink with his dad… Even though Robert is in St. Louis now, his dad still puts the rink back up for the neighborhood kids and for Robert's younger brother."
After learning to skate on the backyard rink, Thomas began playing organized youth hockey, and Waechter would drive his grandson all across Canada for practices and games.
"I became the substitute father and cheerleader and all that stuff," Waechter said.
Later, Thomas would play in international tournaments that took him to Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany and Prague.
Waechter traveled to all of them.
He was in Chicago in 2017, too, when the Blues called Thomas' name in the first round of the NHL Draft. And when there was speculation that Thomas might make the team out of training camp at the start of this season, Waechter and his wife, Barb, made the 12-hour drive from Southhampton, Ontario to St. Louis in a mobile home and parked about eight blocks from Enterprise Center so they could be there to watch the first 15 home games (preseason and regular season).
"That pretty much tells the story about my grandpa," Thomas said. "He loves supporting hockey and he's been like that with me and my brother the entire time."
Waechter took the first flight out of Southampton on Monday morning and was in Fort Lauderdale by 9:15 a.m. Soon after dropping his suitcase off in Thomas' room, he boarded the team bus, sat in the team's pre-scouting meeting and watched the Blues practice.
That was just the beginning of what is sure to be memorable trip.
"I'll remember this as long as I live," Waechter said. "There are about 16 of us that golf in the summer time back home, but in the winter time, we go to the local pub in Southampton for lunch every Monday. Only about half of those guys know I'm down here in Florida. I can hardly wait to get back to tell them about this.
"And Robert is a great kid," he added. "I tell him that's the only part he got from me."