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Fathers, sons share trip down California coast

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Deep within the bowels of Staples Center late Saturday night, those walking into the visiting dressing room adorned with the ‘Flaming C’ on their chest weren’t shy to put their excitement on display.

Howling, hooting and hollering filled the hallowed halls as those sporting the names of Cammalleri, McGrattan, O’Brien and many more on their backs stood in front of stalls exchanging smiles, high fives and pats on the back.

But it wasn’t Mike, Brian, Shane or any of the 19 others to suit up in a dramatic Calgary Flames 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Instead, it was Leo, Tom and a host of others -- their dads.

“It’s just a first-class move by the Flames organization,” said Shane O’Brien, accompanied on the trip by father Pat. “It’s nice to see all the dads. It’s good to meet the old boys and get them around and get them a taste of what the NHL is all about because obviously without them -- and our moms -- none of us would be here.”

The Flames’ fathers were collected in Calgary days before congregating to California to participate in a two-game road trip -- pre and post-game meals et al -- down the coast to see just exactly how their sons work day-in, day-out.

“You go through it and you go through the routine, the wins and the losses, all this as a pro player and no one ever actually gets to see the actual intimacies of it other than the team or the coaches,” Mike Cammalleri said. “For the fathers to actually see the intimacies of that and be part of that, it’s all so special.

“I’ve played 12 years, this is my 12th year pro and never had an opportunity to do it. I was excited. There are a lot of visuals I think I’ll remember. It’s definitely been special and something we’re thankful for.”

Mike left his father with a lasting visual. Tied 1-1 late in the third period, the 31-year-old tucked a puck around Kings’ goaltender Ben Scrivens with just 23 seconds remaining in the game, sending the Flames to victory and their fathers into revelry.

But the post-game cheers were for more than just two points.

They were a celebration of bad coffee at early-morning practices.

Of being on hands and knees tying skates on cold dressing room floors.

Of long drives to games and tournaments.

Of sacrifices -- both personal and financial -- that had fathers and sons in arms.

“Growing up, hockey’s not cheap,” Brian McGrattan said. “It’s not a cheap sport and there were two of us in it, me and my brother. I played hockey in the winter, lacrosse in the summer.

“It was a full-time job after their jobs. They sacrificed a lot for us, maybe a lot of stuff to do with their friends and vacation time. That was all aimed and me and my brother. We owe everything to them, where we are in our lives. I wouldn’t be here, there’s no chance I’d be here without my parents -- especially my dad. There were a lot of one-on-ones in the car and driving and tournaments.

“I think everybody in our positions owe everything to our parents because we wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for their sacrifices when we were younger.”

The sacrifices are something Tom McGrattan can certainly attest to, but wouldn’t trade for anything.

“I would get home from work, say 4 o’clock, 4:30, (Brian) would be sitting on the front porch with his equipment on waiting for me to come home,” Tom said. “Didn’t have time to change or anything. We had a lot of outdoor rinks back in those days. He knew where they all were.

“We’d be out there until 8 o’clock at night and then I would basically just be hoping he’d be exhausted so I could get home to have some dinner.”

The trip was a means to give back to Tom and the other Flames’ fathers just a little.

“Those guys, those parents were there for their sons at six, seven o’clock in the morning Saturdays and Sundays wherever they were tying skates in cold rinks and watching them,” coach Bob Hartley said. “Right now they’re watching them in the NHL. I think that as an organization, it’s great. It’s my first experience and I really appreciate it.

“It was US Thanksgiving. We need to be thankful for this. There’s lots of sacrifice that goes into the life of a hockey parent. Hockey’s an expensive sport. The time and the money and all of the sacrifice you do in order to be in rinks to give the boys a chance to play their favourite game, I think it’s a nice tribute to the dads to have them around us.”

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