The team went 1-1 on the first-ever Moms’ Trip, a record that means Penguins general manager Ray Shero may need to bring them back again next year – much to the dismay of the dads, who went 0-2 on their last trip two years ago.
“Six years of the Fathers’ Trip we kept threatening them that if the record didn’t improve we were going to go with the moms,” Shero laughed, who began the tradition with the fathers when he became general manager of the team back in 2006. “All seriousness, it was something we’d been thinking of and something they deserve. I think they’ve had a fantastic time so far. It’s been a lot of fun for everybody and getting to meet some of the moms, we don’t get a chance to do that during the year. It’s been great.”
Having their moms with them on the trip was “distinctly” different than having their dads, according to head coach Dan Bylsma – especially when it comes to shows of affection, fashion sense and the number of suitcases.
“I’m 43 years old and I feel like my mom is watching over me and taking care of me even on this trip,” he joked. “But also, the difference is we’ve talked about the fashion and size of the carry-on luggage. I told the mothers (on Wednesday) – I hate to bear the news, but I think they thought it was a two-week trip not a two game trip.
“For me and I know the guys as well, having our mothers on the trip – to be able to repay them and say thank you for everything they’ve been for us – it makes me feel a lot younger. I think about 12 or 13 years old with having my mom and being able to say thank you and I love you and I heard a lot of I love you’s today from their sons. So it’s a little bit different feel than if the dads were here.”
Mary Ann Vitale, whose son Joe is currently out with an upper-body injury, is the first to admit that even though he’s all grown up, her motherly instincts took over at times on the trip.
“His arm’s itching (in his cast) and you want to stop and scratch it,” she laughed. “The mom part always stays there.”
That’s something the guys expected from their mothers.
“That’s standard,” laughed Brandon Sutter. “No matter how old you get you’re still a kid to your mom. It’s been fun. They’ve had a good time with us and amongst all the moms. They have a pretty fun group.”
The Moms’ Trip began on Wednesday, with most of the moms flying with their sons on the team charter to Los Angeles while some of them met the team in California. After an afternoon skate at the Kings’ practice facility, the boys and their moms went to a team dinner at the home of Penguins owner Ron Burkle.
The next morning, Bylsma invited the moms into the locker room for their team meeting and pre-game scout – where the players surprised the moms with a video they put together to show their appreciation for these amazing women and thank them for everything they’ve done for them throughout the years.
“In the locker room with all the guys and telling those stories, it was a little emotional, I have to say,” said Sutter’s mom Connie. “I was saying oh my gosh, I’ve got to try not to cry because there were some really nice stories. So it’s been a lot of fun and the ladies are really fun. We’re having a good time.”
After that, a lot of them decided to take advantage of the warm weather and go to the beach before their sons played the Kings that night at the Staples Center – and their departures didn’t go unnoticed by the coach.
“For the morning skate here, we had a nice video for the mothers and they were part of our meetings, but all but about five left the rink immediately,” Bylsma laughed. “They didn’t stay around. The dads would all be standing around the rink, watching the morning skate and they’re all gone. So they scattered pretty quickly. I went out to look at the moms and they’re not at the rink any longer.”
The Penguins won that game, 4-1, and flew to Phoenix immediately after. After the team’s Friday afternoon skate, the players were free to do whatever they wanted with their moms in sunny Glendale. The next day, the team planned a shopping trip for the moms in Scottsdale during the day before their game that night against the Coyotes.
The moms did have their fun, but they also got to experience their sons doing what they love for a living – a dream they helped them achieve with years of sacrificing so much time, energy and money outfitting them in expensive equipment, driving them to and from countless practices and games early in the mornings and late at night and not to mention all of the weekends spent at tournaments all across North America.
“She would have supported me and been dedicated no matter what I chose to do,” said Matt Niskanen. “I love to play hockey. She made sure I had every opportunity to do that as much as possible. She’s spent a lot of hours waiting for me at the rink or on road trips driving me places. It’s fun having her watch then and even more special having her watch me in the big leagues. It’s cool that she gets to come on the trip and experience this.”
“They spent so much time with us at tournaments or in the car,” agreed Rob Scuderi. “It’s nice to see that they finally get a chance to see what we do on a daily basis. You can try to explain it when you’re around for the holidays, but it’s cool that they can be with us and experience what we do on a day-to-day basis.”
The moms have learned, however, how much of a grind these trips can be for their boys.
“They realize that life on the road isn’t as glamorous and fun,” smiled Paul Martin. “It’s a lot of planes and bus rides and being at the rink. I think the experience and being around the moms, coming to a couple games has been a great experience for (my mom Beverly). She’s enjoying it. A couple dinners, spent time on the plane and bus catching up. We don’t get to do that during the season because you’re busy. You don’t get to see family like that so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Overall, the ladies now have a better appreciation for what their sons go through every day as professional athletes – and appreciated the team gave them this opportunity to experience it and give them quality time with their sons and the other moms.
“It’s really cool, but you have a respect for these boys the pace that they go and how much they have to do,” said Mary Ann. “They go every moment; they never stop. It’s a lot of hard work for them. It’s very impressive to see the program and it’s really been a lot of fun to get to know the moms and share stories. They’ve been really a lot of fun to get to know.”