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Road trip becomes family affair

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

CHICAGO -- In most cases, the hair is a little more gray, but the faces look remarkably familiar, and there are a lot of smiles. The Kings are having their semi-annual ``fathers’ trip’’ this week, with stops in Chicago and Winnipeg, giving players time to visit with, and pay tribute to, those who helped raise them.

Twenty-one fathers are on board this week. Many of them attended Monday’s game at STAPLES Center, then flew with the team to Chicago on Tuesday, while others met the team in the Midwest. Tuesday night included a steakhouse dinner, and the dads will watch the game against the Blackhawks together.

On the trip are Alain Bernier, Bryan Brown, John Clifford, Paul Doughty, David Drewiske, John Fraser, Jim Greene, Stan Hunter, Jack Johnson Sr., Matjaz Kopitar, Randy Lewis, Frank Martinez, Reid Mitchell, Terry Penner, Doug Quick, Norman Richards, Jim Richardson, Bob Scuderi, Tim Stoll, Reg Westgarth and Craig Williams.

Similar trips have become standard around the league -- sometimes mothers or siblings are included instead -- as a chance for fathers and sons to experience the game together. Rarely, except for a game or two at most, do parents get a chance to watch their NHL sons play in person each season.

``They’re a lot of fun,’’ Willie Mitchell said. ``We’re lucky that the organization has given us this opportunity to bring our fathers along. Most of the teams now, I think, are starting to do it, but to sit here with the people who are so important to your lives, who raised you and gave you the opportunity to get where you are, and give them the opportunity to kind of see what we do, it’s unique and special.

``They get to see how we travel, see how we eat, and sometimes see how busy we are, because some people think we just go play games. It’s not that way. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into performance, so they get an inside look at that. I think it’s a lot of fun. It gives the dads some time to bond, and I’m sure they’re all pretty proud of us and they’re all enjoying it.’’

The Kings placed winger Simon Gagne on injured reserve Wednesday. Gagne left Monday’s game against Phoenix after he appeared to hit his head near the boards.

While the team has not described Gagne’s injury as a concussion, or even head-related, Gagne has a long history of concussion issues. He once reportedly had three in one season. Sutter didn’t offer a specific update on Gagne but told reporters, ``You know the history as well as I do.’’

Gagne did not accompany the Kings to Chicago.

Gagne has seven goals in 34 games this season, and tonight he will be replaced by rookie Andrei Loktionov, who is expected to move into a second-line left-wing role alongside center Mike Richards and right winger Trevor Lewis. Loktionov has zero goals and two assists in 15 games this season.

``Hey, to be perfectly honest, some of veteran players haven’t been productive in terms of offense anyway,’’ Sutter said. ``So it’s an opportunity for a younger player. The game is about depth, and there are injuries. You move on in a hurry.’’

Sutter made Loktionov a healthy scratch in Sutter’s first three games with the Kings, but the rookie will go into the lineup tonight at left wing, not his natural position of center.

``I saw him play in the American league last year and I saw him at World Championships,’’ Sutter said. ``I know he’s a skilled kid. I know he would prefer to play center, but we’re pretty strong at that position.

``He’s probably been bumped out not because of what he does, but just because, with (Anze) Kopitar and Mike Richards and Jarret (Stoll) and Colin (Fraser) as our fourth-line centerman, it’s a pretty good group. So if you want to get in the lineup, you’re going to have to move out of position, and he’s a talented-enough player that he should be able to adjust to that.’’

The trip to Chicago is a bit of a homecoming for Sutter. As a player, he was drafted by the Blackhawks in 1978 and made his NHL debut with them during the 1979-80 season. Sutter played in Chicago through the 1986-87 season and then retired, but then returned the following year as an assistant coach.

After two seasons as a minor-league head coach, Sutter returned to Chicago in 1990 as associate coach and, two years later, took over as head coach, a job he held for three seasons, through 1995.

``My family pretty much grew up here, so great memories, great town,’’ Sutter said. ``I was a Blackhawks fan before I even played for the Blackhawks.’’

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