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Penguins Players and Fathers Excited for 4th Annual "Dad's Trip"

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins fathers received a tour of the Consol Energy Center on Saturday prior to leaving for the 4th Annual "Dad's Trip."

Four seasons ago, then-rookie general manager Ray Shero invited everyone on the Penguins travel party – players, coaches and support staff – to bring their fathers along for a road trip through Dallas and Phoenix on Jan. 25-27, 2007.

After the Penguins posted a 4-3 shootout victory over the Stars and a 7-2 defeat of the Coyotes, a new tradition, the Penguins annual “Dad’s Trip,” was born.

“That was a big, big trip for the team,” Andre Fleury, father of goaltender Marc-Andre, said. “We enjoyed the nice weather and got in a round of golf in Arizona. That was a lot of fun.”

This weekend marks the fourth edition of the “Dad’s Trip” as the Penguins take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and the New York Rangers on Monday. All parties are excited for another chance to get the Penguins’ “extended family” together again.

“First thing you have to do is thank Ray Shero for making this organization one big family,” said Rick Orpik, father of defenseman Brooks Orpik. “I have other friends whose kids play in the NHL and they are all envious of the atmosphere around this organization. To put everybody together from players’ fathers to equipment guys’ fathers, it’s just something else.”

Besides the fun of traveling with their sons, the fathers were given an extra treat this year. Before the team departed for Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, all the dads were invited to a behind the scenes tour of the Consol Energy Center, slated to open at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, while their sons practiced at Mellon Arena.

As the dads witnessed firsthand the breathtaking views and amenities of the Consol Energy Center, their sons were excited to get a report on their future home.

“I kind of want to go to it to see what it’s like,” Marc-Andre Fleury said. “My dad is in construction so I’m sure he loved looking around.”

“(Jay) asked me to check out (the new) arena to see how they were coming along with it,” Gordon McKee said. “He was more interested in this than anything else.”

What kind of report did the fathers have for their sons?

“This is unbelievable,” Troy Crosby said. “It’s hard to imagine this. Just a year ago it was just off the ground and the foundation was being built. It’s going to be a great building to watch a game in next year.”

“I have been to about 20 NHL arenas and this one is going to be second to none,” Rick Orpik said. “Everything about it is pretty impressive. It is just first-class the whole way – from the locker room design to the strength and conditioning area – it’s just impressive.”

In my scenario, my father – he’s 68 – and he still plays hockey. It was always a dream of his to play in the NHL. For him to come here and just see what we do on a daily basis and go on the road, it’s not an opportunity that a lot of people get. So, it’s a special moment for him and for me to have him around like that. - Jay McKee
Following the tour, the dads met up with their sons so they could catch their flight out of Pittsburgh. Once the entourage arrived in Philadelphia, one of the highlights of the trip, the team dinner, took place.

“It’s fun to have them all together,” Sidney Crosby said. “They can share stories. They’ve been through a lot of the same things. Everyone’s kind of found their own path to the NHL and it’s pretty interesting to hear about everyone’s story.”

“The big dinner the night before is always fun,” Jordan Staal said. “We get everyone together. It’s interesting all the stories. There are a lot of people who have been around the world.”

“It’s nice to reconnect with everybody each year and swap stories about old trips,” Jordan’s dad, Henry said. “We are just like the boys I guess – as the years go by the stories get bigger and better.”

Jordan Staal agreed with his dad that those stories do get bigger each time this trip rolls around.

“Yeah, they seem to add on a little bit more,” he said. “That is one of the neat parts of the trip.”

Another neat facet the fathers appreciate is the opportunity to room with their sons and experience what life on the road is like.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Jay McKee said. “I think pretty much every guy in this room is a hockey player and is where he is because of what our parents did for us. In my scenario, my father – he’s 68 – and he still plays hockey. It was always a dream of his to play in the NHL.

“For him to come here and just see what we do on a daily basis and go on the road, it’s not an opportunity that a lot of people get. So, it’s a special moment for him and for me to have him around like that.”

“I just enjoy being around and watching the team play,” Troy Crosby said. “It’s neat to hang out with Sidney and share a room with him, talk with him in the room after the game. We just get to live the life of a player for a couple days.

“We are all dads here. We enjoy being with our sons whether they are five-years-old or now in the NHL. It’s a good time to be around your son.”

Head coach Dan Bylsma believes having the dads around allows the players to appreciate those who helped get them here.

“As players, we enjoy playing in the National Hockey League and what that’s like and how great it is,” he said. “You rarely get to share that experience with anybody other than the guys in the room, and to share it with your dad is an amazing thing.

“It’s also a great show of gratitude from both the Penguins and the players to their parents for the 6 a.m. practices, the cold winters, shoveling driveways and backyard rinks, for coaching the sport all the way through. This is a chance to share that with your dad and to say thank you. It’s a pretty special trip. I know everybody enjoys it – the fathers and the sons.”

Note: Sidney Crosby didn’t have to leave the Pittsburgh city limits to be reminded of his fondest memory with his father. Their drive to Mellon Arena on Saturday harkened Crosby back to his days in Canada when his father would take him to the rink.

“It’s so funny, because we could be late, but every morning he had to have a coffee. It was the same thing this morning. We were on our way to the rink and he had to stop to get a coffee. We have coffee here at the rink, but he had to stop and get his coffee.

“So, I always remember that – whether it was 5 a.m. or whatever the case was. It’s not even always the hockey things you remember. You remember the trips, and you remember those kinds of things. So, he hasn’t changed. It’s always been the same.”  
 
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