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In It Together: The Islanders and Their Dads

How the Islanders dads helped their sons get to the NHL

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

Hockey is literally in the walls of the Prince family home in Rochester, NY. Since Shane Prince learned to lift the puck at seven years old, the garage walls served as his personal end boards and his father Dan knew better than to try keep up with the repairs. 

The walls took a pounding for years until the time finally came that Dan Prince could put up new drywall without consequence. He didn't even bother fishing out the pucks, now a part of the house's foundation.

"There have to be 100 pucks buried in the garage wall," Dan said. "They're still in there to this day, I can promise you that."

Mike Leddy's walls tell a similar story. The basement in Leddy's Eden Prairie, MN, home is unfinished and for good reason. A full-sized net, a bucket of pucks and an aspiring NHLer equal a lot of scuffs, dents and holes, even a man-sized one. 

"When he was probably a senior, just downstairs screwing around, and he checked me into the wall," Leddy said. "Not violently, just kind of hit me and I went into the wall, took out sheetrock."

It's a small sacrifice. Holes can be spackled and drywalled over. After all, t hese kids need a place to practice and their parents were dedicated to facilitating that. When Peter Cizikas received letters from his condo corporation that Casey was breaking the rules by playing street hockey - which seems about as un-Canadian as warm winters - he tossed them out. He'd go to bat for them so long as they weren't rude to the neighbors, so Casey could keep playing.

Paps and I

A post shared by Casey Cizikas (@zeekerr) on

In Eden Prairie, Mike Leddy built his son a backyard rink - and shoveled it, too. In Rochester, Dan Prince found his son extra ice time at a local rink where they'd let him in after hours. There are lots of variations of these stories. Talk to the Islanders' dads and each one has their own. When they get together for the annual Islanders' dads and mentors trip, they swap stories of scarred basements, bantam road trips and countless hours at the rink. 

"We all know what it takes to get your kid to this level," Dan Prince said. "The camaraderie. We know what we've been through, the work, the sacrifices for the moms and the dads, the family, usually siblings too. Everybody has to sacrifice, it's a long road to get your kid to this stop. So when we get together we all know we don't have to say much, we look at each other in the eye and we know what we're feeling."

These dads have seen the hard work up close. Dan Prince put in the late night and early morning hours with Shane as young as eight or nine. 

Their routine at times involved midnight skates at a local rink that would let them in after hours. Skate. Sleep. Breakfast. School. Skate again. Then Dan, a policeman, would go to work from 3-11, come back home and pick Shane up and start again. 

Shane was fueled by being cut from a select team around eight or nine. And as long as Shane wanted to do midnight skates, Dan would be there with him. 

"I saw how it broke his heart and I saw that it was something he really wanted," Dan Prince said. "He looked at me that day and I said if this is something you really want - to never have this disappointment again - it's going to take a lot of work. It's going to be day and night, night and day and if you want to do it, I'll be with you. I'll stay up late at night and early in the morning and we'll do it together and that's exactly what we did. I never doubted him."

Mike Leddy's been a baseball, football and hockey coach. He didn't set out with aspirations of making Nick an NHLer, but as a high school hockey player himself, wanted to be able to bond with his boys. But anything doing is worth doing right, so if Nick wanted to pursue high level hockey, his dad was going to give him the right environment.  

"Nobody should ever think their kid's going to be a pro hockey player, it's giving him the opportunity to be the best that he can be," Mike Leddy said. "Both my boys, helping them and giving them an environment to just do their best in, so that was the biggest thing."
 
So he built and shoveled the backyard rink and if Nick was going to put in some extra work - on land, ice or in the basement - Mike would be there with him. 

For Peter Cizikas, watching Casey play is the ultimate the more things change, the more they stay the same. Whether Casey was playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, AHL or NHL, it's always been the same off-the-wall energy and tenacity. 

"Same thing, always go, go, go," Peter Cizikas said. "His template was always go, go, go, work hard and that was part of what helped him get through the whole thing and everyone seeing that his base was working hard and showing that enthusiasm of doing the job."

Like Leddy, Cizikas' dad didn't envision the NHL as a possibility until later on. There's no pinpointing one moment where Cizikas' engine ignited either. That work ethic is deeply engrained. 

"We just had some fun and went through the whole motions," Peter Cizikas said. "As you get older, maybe bantam you start seeing the teams they are on and the recognition. About then you start thinking, it's up to him really. I just say keep up the good work, keep working hard and then good things will come from it and that's how you get it. Work hard and good things come."

Prince left home to play in the OHL at 15, and that's an experience a lot of Islanders and their families can relate to. Even Cizikas - who was drafted by his hometown Mississauga St. Michael's Majors - lived with a billet family. 

All three of Chris Strome's sons - Ryan, Dylan and Matthew - have left home to play in the OHL. 

"For Ryan, Dylan and Matthew, who all left home at a young age, that's what they wanted to do," Chris Strome said. "For my wife, having her babies leave at 16 it's kind of tough, but we realized what their dream was, so we'd just go visit them a little bit more often."

The shared sacrifice amplifies the good times and watching their sons play in the NHL is a thrill that doesn't get old. Their sons have all come a long way from the backyard rinks, battered basements and scuffed walls - and so have they.

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