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A Father and Son's Journey

by Jimi Russell / Nashville Predators

"My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me." - Jim Valvano

Every parent makes sacrifices to help their children grow and mature into responsible adults, but for the parents of young hockey players, that sacrifice goes to a whole other level. For hockey parents, you aren’t just making sure your child is up on time for school, doing their homework, eating their vegetables and getting to bed at a decent time.

For those parents, you not only have to fulfill normal parenting obligations, you also have to wake up early to make practice, drive hundreds of miles to games, buy equipment year-after-year and, from time to time, sit helplessly while your child is injured on the ice. For hockey parents, the game almost becomes a second job.

“It never seemed like work to us,” Tom Clune, Rich’s father, said. “Rich’s mother and I both came from pretty large families – I’m from a family of seven and Ann Marie is from a family of six. It was always about family and trying to provide special opportunities for our boys. When you see your kids fulfilling their dreams – it really doesn’t seem like a sacrifice. It’s just nice to be able to watch them take those opportunities and run with them.”

John Hutton, who logged a lot of miles as a construction foreman when Carter was young, says it never really seemed like he was sacrificing anything for his son who loved the game.

“It was all a pleasure for me,” Hutton said. “It becomes a way of life, and it becomes your social life while the kids are playing. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and really, all parents would do that for their kids. It doesn’t matter what walk of life they come from. It was just a great time watching him play and I would do it all over again in a minute.”

In an attempt to repay some of the sacrifice it took to get the players and the staff members to where they are now, the Nashville Predators have a tradition as old as the franchise itself – the annual Fathers’ Trip.

Out of the group of 22 fathers on the trip, both Tom Clune and John Hutton stand out amongst the crowd. Not because they sacrificed more than any other father or that they are on their first fathers’ trip, but because their boys both took a very circuitous route to the NHL.

It was a journey full of sweat, blood and aggravation from both child and parent, but to see their sons finally succeed is a reward for all the dedication put forth by all.

“It’s one of those things where you are proud of him for all of his hard work and for all of his dedication,” Tom Clune said. “He put in a lot of work in Manchester those last few years. He was really committed to getting better, and he was very fortunate to get a break with Nashville. I know he just wants the make the most of this opportunity. So, for me, knowing how hard he’s worked has really made me feel good.”

For the elder Hutton, his son had to travel away from their native Thunder Bay, Ont. to play hockey. Carter’s stops included Lowell, Mass., Adirondack, N.Y., Worchester, Mass., and Rockford, Ill., but John’s faith in his son’s determination never faltered.

“It teeters on surreal for me as a parent,” John Hutton said. “You never expect your son to go this far. It was only accomplished through all of his hard work and perseverance, and that’s the part that makes it so easy for me to watch him play. I’m an old hockey fan, and it is great for me. It’s a great journey and I’m proud of him for making it this far.”

But this trip isn’t all about the fathers, it’s also about the sons. Those young boys, who spent years following their biggest role models around, are now men that get to show their role models what they do for a living.

“It’s an unbelievable experience and such a classy move by the team to bring all the dads,” Rich Clune said. “Our parents, in particular our fathers, are the ones that started us in the game and they’ve been there every step of the way. My dad has seen me grow in life and it’s such a treat to have him come down here to get to see what we do every day. He didn’t play in the League, so it’s a good reward for him to see what I do.”

Carter thinks it may be the best way to repay his dad for driving from job sites just to watch him play when he was kid.

“It’s incredible to have him here,” the Preds goaltender said. “The things he’s done for me to even play hockey at a young age are incredible. He worked out of town for a lot of years and he missed a lot of games, but he also traveled a lot of miles to be able to see me play. It’s really special to have him here to enjoy this. All of the things he’s done, what he’s put into this financially and the sacrifices he and my mother have made for me to live my dream is amazing, and I’m glad to have him here with me. He’s a very proud dad – I think he’s my biggest fan.”

With all of that hard work and dedication comes the defining moment in any player’s career – the moment he is called up to The Show for the first time. But, when you hear the fathers’ talk about that moment, it may actually be more special for the parent than it is the child.

“I absolutely remember it – it was a very exciting time at our house,” John Hutton said. “Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to get to St. Louis to watch him play because it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but it was very exciting for me. It was a great experience for the whole family.”

In the Clune household, Rich’s first recall to the Los Angeles Kings came at a turbulent time in his life, but that fact made it none-the-more special for the parents.

“I was at work and he called to say that he was getting called up,” Tom Clune said. “I knew he wanted that so badly, and I was really happy for him to get the chance. It was a pretty quick thing. I didn’t get out there to see his debut, but I did get out to see the second game against the Canadiens. It didn’t really go the way he wanted it to go because he ended up back in the minors, but I think the next opportunity he got went a lot better for him.”

Rich Clune calls the day he was picked up on waivers by the Nashville Predators the defining moment of his budding career, and he’s glad his parents were part of his reemergence in the National Hockey League.

“The day I got picked up on waivers by Nashville was more special to me than my debut,” Clune said. “The Los Angeles times were a different period for me, but when I got picked up here, it was an exciting time for me and my family. When I got sent back to the minors, I put in a lot of work, and it didn’t even occur to me that other teams were watching me. To get picked up by Nashville was something special and we’ll remember that for the rest of our lives.”

For Carter Hutton, it was the phone call he made after receiving the news from Blackhawks’ Head Coach Joel Quenneville that he remembers the most.

“It was one of those things that was a long-time coming,” Carter said. “When I got the chance last year, it was kind of a joyous moment for him. I think he and my mom were more nervous than I was. I just remember texting before the game to tell him that he deserved it just as much as I did.”

To see more photos from the Nashville Predators 2013 Fathers' Trip, click here.

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