The annual Fathers Trip is a chance for the dads of Nashville Predators players, coaches and staff to spend time together and see what life is like on a daily basis for their professional hockey playing sons. That experience also includes some perks.
“All the food you can eat on the plane, it’s great, he loves that,” forward Craig Smith laughed when talking about his father, Kevin.
The Preds will embark to the Sunshine State on Thursday in advance of their games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday and the Florida Panthers on Saturday, with 17 players bringing their fathers or other guests along for the journey.
The trip has become an annual trek for not only the Preds, but most teams around the League. It’s a chance for players and coaches to give back and say thanks to someone who likely tied their skates a few times growing up. No longer needed in the locker room to assist with equipment issues, the fathers instead get to take it all in.
“It’s a great opportunity for a connection between a dad and a son,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We travel a lot, we’re away from our hometowns most of the time, and this is an opportunity for dads to come back in and spend some quality time with their sons. More than anything, it’s great for the dads to experience, from their son’s eyes, what they go through on a daily basis and spend time together. It doesn’t happen as much as it did when you were a kid.”
Mike Fisher and his father, Jim, are veterans of the trip, but for the younger Fisher, having dad along never gets old.
“It’s always fun for us as players to have them around, and I think it’s a highlight of the year for all of us on the trip,” Fisher said. “Our fathers have done so much for us in our career and for me in my career especially. The amount of sacrifices they made, it’s kind of nice for them to be able to experience a trip like this and hopefully we can get a couple wins for them.”
Ryan Johansen, who was traded to the Predators from Columbus a little over a month ago, was disappointed to learn he wouldn’t be able to experience the Fathers Trip with the Blue Jackets this season. That mood changed quickly, however, when he and his father, Randall, learned Nashville was yet to take their journey.
“I’m sure my dad circles the date on the calendar, and it’s something he really looks forward to,” Johansen said. “It was great news to hear we were doing one in February that we would be able to make, so I’m sure he has a big smile on his face on his way over now.”
Carter Hutton and his father, Jack, will be along for the weekend, and the Preds goaltender isn’t quite sure which member of the Hutton family has more fun on the annual excursion.
“He’s a big hockey nut; he loves the guys and they love him,” Hutton said. “For me, he has a million questions, and he’s having the time of this life. He loves buddying up with all the guys and getting to know them more on a personal level, so it’s a pretty fun trip.”
Naturally, the Preds can’t help but think back to all the early morning practices or late night games their fathers were present for, sacrificing whatever was needed for their sons to play the game.
“One of the earliest memories is when I first skated; he tied my skates in the back of the truck and then carried me across the street to this pond right in the middle of the town,” Smith said. “That was one of my earliest memories… and then he worked late and long days, so for him to just put in the time to play with me was awesome. It’s worked out. We’ve really been enjoying the ride so far, so I love having him here.”
“He’s watched you your whole life, he’s watched you grow up and he’s pretty much always watching, whether that’s at home on TV or he was here in the building watching last night,” defenseman Anthony Bitetto said of his father, Brian. “It’s a special moment. It’s hard to put into words how you feel about it, but it’s cool. It’s really cool that the organization does this for the dads.”
No longer are they needed to buckle the chin straps of helmets or adjust an oversized shoulder pad, but the support of the fathers is still welcomed, even at the highest level of hockey. While there won’t be any shortage of memories to be had on the trip, a couple of victories would certainly help the cause. After all, everybody wants to give their dad something to cheer about.
“When you see them after the game, you want them to have that smile on their face,” Johansen said. “They’re proud of you anyway, but it makes it more special if you can win and have some success. It’ll definitely be a better weekend if we can come out with a couple of wins.”