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Quality Time

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

This weekend, Pete Dumoulin will be flying on a chartered plane, staying in four-star hotels, eating at nice restaurants, watching NHL games from a suite and spending time on the beach in sunny Florida.

And while those are all certainly very nice perks, that’s not what he’s looking forward to the most about his first-ever Dads’ Trip.

“I’m looking forward to just spending some time with Brian,” Pete said. “I haven’t spent this much time with him since he was 12 years old. It’s been great.”

Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff’s father feels the same way.

“I don’t get to spend a lot of time with him during the year,” Jeff Sr. said. “It’s just a nice treat to come and spend time with not only him, but the other guys as well, and meet everybody on the team and the other dads.”

The dads met up with their sons in Pittsburgh on Thursday and flew with them to Carolina that afternoon. Each parent shares a hotel room with their son throughout the trip, which concludes on Monday in Florida when the Pens play the Panthers.

The fathers will be with their kids as they go about their business, which includes team meals, heading with them to and from the rink and watching practices. They'll even pair up for a beach bocce and horseshoe tournament on Saturday.

That quality time is what head coach Mike Sullivan feels is the most important part of this whole experience.

“I think speaking from experience, when your dads get a little bit older, I think you value your relationship with them that much more,” he said. “I think to have an opportunity like this where our guys get a chance to spend some time with their fathers and their dads get an opportunity to see them in a working environment, for me, is a terrific experience.

“I’m a strong believer that family is a big part of it. They’re very supportive people. These players are what they are because of their parents and the people that helped raise them. So to be able to share in their experience I think is really important for us.”

While seeing Jeff Jr. on the ice has been enjoyable, seeing him interact with his teammates off the ice has been even more so.

“I watch him and I see him with the guys and he’s a great teammate,” Jeff Sr. said. “His mother and I raised him to be that way, so I’m very, very proud of the way that he’s grown to be.”

While Zatkoff and Dumoulin have been in the league for a few years now, Conor Sheary is an NHL rookie. And he didn’t have the easiest route, as the undrafted forward has had to work for everything he’s gotten and continually prove himself.

Conor first signed an AHL-only deal after four years at UMass-Amherst. And after tearing it up for one regular season and two postseasons, he earned a two-way NHL deal heading into this year. Now, he’s earned the right to be in Pittsburgh.

“I know how hard he worked," Kevin Sheary said. "He started kind of under the radar the whole way and still is a little bit, so now that he’s in the primetime so we’re real proud of him.

"I’ve probably said like five times how proud we are of him, but at this level now, it’s all about him and we’re all sort of going along for the ride. It’s really awesome.”

And it's incredibly special for Conor to have his dad here with him now, who joked he's got a million questions he wants to ask his son.

"For most of the guys in the room, our dads and our parents are the reason why we’re here today," Conor said. "He was obviously a huge influence on me, he was my coach all growing up. To have him here for a few games is pretty cool."

As the first-time Dads’ Trip attendees sat in the stands at PNC Arena and watched their sons skate while reflecting on their earliest hockey memories, they were all bursting with pride.

“It’s been outstanding,” Pete said of watching Brian grow into the player – and person – he is today. “He’s done everything a dad can want. He’s developed along the way and did all the right things. I’m confident he’ll keep doing the right things. It’s real awesome to watch him just develop and he’s been getting better every year since he’s been 4.

“You throw him on the ice, they push chairs around and it all ends up here. It’s really cool.”

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