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A Bonding Experience

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders

It may seem like a simple gesture, but to a select small group of people, it means everything. On Wednesday, the fathers and special guests of the Islanders players and coaches began the road trip of a lifetime with the team, as they visit the Florida Panthers tonight and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Tagged as "Dad's Week," the Islanders players and coaches have the rare opportunity to bring their father or special guest with them on the road to see what they do day-in-and-day-out in the NHL.
"I'm really looking forward to this trip," said George Comeau, Blake's dad. "I am happy to be spending some time with my son, because I don't really get the opportunity to do that during the season."
This annual trip usually includes a trip to the south, but in the past has also paid a visit to Toronto. While the warm weather is certainly a nice getaway for many of the fathers who reside in the northern parts of North America or Europe, the true excitement comes from joining their sons on the road.
Throughout much of their childhood, the players were looking to their fathers to be driven from game to game. Now, the roles are reversed, with the sons leading the way.
"The exciting part of these trips is the camaraderie with your son and seeing how everything works," said Hugh Sim, Jon's father. "You get to watch your son grow up and play. Now, they're in the best league, so it's enjoyable to see them on the road."
While the players are practicing, playing or preparing for the games, it gives the fathers an opportunity to get to know one another. Some of the dads, like Trent Hunter's father, Stan, knows what to expect and is excited about getting back on the road with his son and fellow hockey dads.
"We just try not to get in any trouble or embarrass the kids," said Stan Hunter. "The last couple of trips have been awesome. The Islanders have treated us like kings. The games are fun to watch with all of the dads together. Everyone reacts to their boys on the ice and what happens in the game."
One of those reactions that has become legendary was Stan Hunter's dance moves following his son's goal in a win over Dallas on November 15, 2006.
Kome and Kyle Okposo
"I was listening to an Islanders broadcast a week ago and they talked about looking forward to Stan doing the dance again," said Kome Okposo, Kyle's dad. "There was extra motivation to go on the trip to see that. I've met some of the other kids, but it's nice to see how they evolve talking to their dads."
But it's not just the players who will be watched during the two-game road trip, the coaches have brought guests as well.
"I love hockey, I love the NHL and I love the Islanders," said Dan Gaspé, assistant coach John Chabot's brother-in-law. "It's great to re-connect and spend time with John, and watch him at work because I think he is really good at what he does."
Head Coach Scott Gordon, will also have his father on the trip, but is more worried about the fathers behaving than his players.
"We can only hope the players can keep the fathers in line," joked Gordon.
Assistant Coach Dan Lacroix will also be joined by a relative, his brother Michel.
"We don't get to see each other too often during the season, just mostly during the summer," said Michel. "After you go on a road trip with the team, you figure out that the schedule these guys go through is pretty amazing. I consider myself very fortunate that I am able to come on this trip."
While some of the fathers have taken this trip many times, others, such as Chris Bailey, father of Josh and Robert Thompson, father of Nate, will be taking their first NHL trips with their sons.
"You just can't simulate the camaraderie or the feeling of being with the team and I think that's really the cool thing," said Robert Thompson. "It's nice to get to know the dads and the other players and to get a feel for the family-type of relationship the team has."
Chris Bailey may be making his first NHL trip with Josh, but he has traveled with him while he was playing in juniors. Each year, Chris would organize a trip with other Windsor Spitfire dads to accompany their sons on a road trip, but this will be the first time Josh will stay in the same room as his father on the road.
"We've been looking forward to this trip for a long time," said Josh. "I've only been my dad around a bit, especially during the hockey season, so it should be a good time."
Be sure to look for the "Dads' Blog" throughout the week,
as they will check in to let us know how their road trip is going.
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