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A Few Days With The Islanders Dads

The New York Islanders brought their dads on the team's annual dads' and mentors' trip

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

The path out of the Empire State Building leads through a hall of framed celebrity photographs. It's a winding hallway lined with pictures of actors, athletes, singers, models and dignitaries ranging from Neil Patrick Harris to Sir Patrick Stewart.

The New York Islanders have a presence on the wall, with Nick Leddy and Brock Nelson pictured standing on the observatory in their home blue jerseys, during a ceremonial lighting before the 2015-16 season. Mike Leddy sees his son on the wall and takes his phone out to take a picture.

The Islanders dads are glad to see some blue and orange on the wall, but obviously it means a lot more to him. 

"You look and you're like, 'that's my kid,' Leddy said. "That's humbling and neat."

Johnny Boychuk's dad also has his phone out, but another celebrity has caught his eye, so he aims a little lower than Leddy and Nelson. 

"Mr. Bean!" he proclaims, before snapping a picture of Rowan Atkinson. It's pretty clear where Johnny Boychuk gets his personality.

The Empire State Building is the first stop on the annual Islanders dads' road trip. Manhattan isn't far, but it is a road game and for some of the dads, it's one of the first experiences in the big city. For many of them, taking a tour up one of New York City's most iconic buildings is a first. 

It's sunny and clear, so visibility stretches for miles out to Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey, but the air is crisp and the wind picks up on the 86th floor. Thomas Greiss' father-in-law knows the city, pointing out the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium and the United Nations building among others. They all pose for a group picture with team owner Jon Ledecky. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: Kicking off the #Isles dads and mentors trip at the @EmpireStateBldg! ������#IslesFamily pic.twitter.com/sqdNELO6HQ

"It's been fantastic and I tell you the dads group, being a new guy, I didn't know what to expect coming in here and they've been like old friends all of the sudden," said Andy Mayfield, who likened the dad's trip to taking the kids on youth hockey trips.

"The last time I was on a big trip was probably when my son was in midget," he said. "I thought if it's half as fun as those were, then it's going to be a great time. It's been everything and it's really been a great time." 

Peter Cizikas said the same thing, but instead of a Motel 8, it's a five-star hotel. Instead of a community rink, it's Madison Square Garden, which is the first arena stop on the trip. 

The dads arrive at the Garden at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday night in the same fashion the players do, walking up the spiral driveway five floors to ice level.  

They have a meeting set with Pierre McGuire, NBCSN's analyst, before the game. McGuire is a high-profile guy on both sides of the border because of his tenure at TSN, so all of the dads know who he is. 

It turns out that Pierre knows all of their sons pretty well, too. 

Pierre is holding court, lining the dads, brothers and mentors up in a semi-circle and goes through the team one-by-one, telling a personal story about each of the Islanders. There are World Junior stories for Thomas Hickey, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares and college hockey talk about Scott Mayfield. There's a story about how much the Boston Bruins missed Johnny Boychuk after his trade and McGuire mixes in some French when talking about Anthony Beauvillier's triumphant return to Montreal. The dads hang on every word. 

"I knew he'd say something about University of Denver," Mayfield said. "He knew Scott's background, I appreciated more the stories about, for instance, Anders Lee. To hear a guy talk about your kid that way, I was telling Tom Lee, I don't know how you hold that together when you hear somebody saying great things about your kid like that."

McGuire's anecdote about Lee was about charity work off the ice, as his brother met the Islanders forward at an event promoting his recent Kan Jam pediatric cancer fundraiser. 

Video: Islanders Dads At MSG

"I thought it was great and just classic Pierre," Dan Prince said. "He does the homework. Who does their homework on someone else's kid? He has a love for the game and the players and he understands how they got to this level. As a dad you completely respect that because he doesn't have to do that, he doesn't have to take the time to find out everything about all of our kids, but that's Pierre McGuire and that's why he is who he is." 

The game is the main event and the Islanders grind out a 3-2 comeback win over the Rangers at MSG. The dads, brothers and mentors watch the game from a cushy suite, their blue and orange outpost probably making up the highest concentration of Isles fans in the building.  

The dads walk past the big media scrum after the game and hang out around the locker room. It's a happy scene with hugs and high-fives after a big win. They can't linger for too long, as they're heading to Pittsburgh that night. The team bus waits for no one and the dads are held to the same standard as their sons. 

In Pittsburgh it's more of the same. The dads and mentors go on a tour of PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It's a private, guided tour, checking out the clubhouse, dugouts, batting cages and of course, the spectacular view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and Pittsburgh skyline. The baseball guys and hockey guys connected over the similarities and differences in their respective sports.

"We've had a great time," Prince said. "We're really fortunate that we get to see and do some things that some people might want to do because of the success of our kids. PNC Park in Pittsburgh was great."

Tweet from @NYIslanders: Great time touring PNC Park with the #Isles dads and mentors! ������ #IslesFamily pic.twitter.com/qYlctyBLZ2

Prince said the dads haven't wanted for anything during the trip because the Islanders have taken care of everything. They're just enjoying the ride. 

"Jon Ledecky, Scott Malkin, we've wanted for nothing here. They've totally catered to our every need and every wish," Prince said. "They've been tremendous and we've had a great, great time. It's nice as a dad to know your kid is in such good hands."

The Islanders go 2-1 during the dads' and mentors' trip, losing 2-1 to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. The dads are there to celebrate the good times after big wins and they're there after the tough losses as well. 

As nice as the plane rides, private tours and perks are, the first priority for the dads, brothers and mentors is to watch the Islanders play. As much as you may love your favorite player, they've got you beat. 

"As much as we're dads, we're fans," Prince said. "There is no bigger fan for an NHL player than his dad.

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