The Nashville Predators locker room had some new faces in it on Tuesday, and for once this season they didn't come from the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee. The last names were familiar though--Hall, Sullivan, Hartnell, Suter--as a dozen or so Predators dads visited their younger namesakes in advance of the team's annual "Fathers' Trip."
"It's a lot of fun having them around," Nashville defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. "It's neat for them to see just what we do day-in and day-out. It's something that he's always dreamed of, and dreamed of me being here, and now just for him to see everything behind the scenes is fun. I enjoy having him there. He always watched me when I was younger, and now for him to do the same thing at this level is great."
Following Tuesday night's 3-2 win over Colorado at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, the Predators and several of their fathers boarded the team charter to Chicago for Nashville's two-game, three-day road trip that concludes Friday night in Columbus. Bringing the dads along on one such trek each season is a tradition that the Predators franchise instituted in its first year, and the concept has been a big hit with players and dads alike.
"It's kind of exciting to have your father not only be your roommate but be on the road trip and just experience some of the things you go through in your everyday life," forward Darcy Hordichuk said. "All the fathers are excited to be here and it's great for the players too.
"I think we're all grateful that the team and the organization is first-class and that they do things like this," Hordichuk added.
Rookie defenseman Ryan Suter's father, Bob, who played on the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" U.S. Olympic hockey team, is among those on the trip. "He's excited, and I'm excited too to spend some time with him," the younger Suter said. "I haven't spent that much time with him in a while, so it should be a fun thing."
Predators forward Scott Hartnell says his father looks forward to the trip each season. "Every year in camp he asks about when the Fathers' Trip is, because he's so excited," Hartnell said. "Just all the dads being around together, bonding, having one common thing between them all--their sons playing in the NHL--is a pretty special thing for all of them."
"My dad is flying up today with Vern Fiddler's dad from Edmonton," forward Scottie Upshall said Tuesday. "I talked to him last night, he's pretty excited. My first year when I was here--when I was 19--I think I got sent down a week before the Fathers' Trip. I had his trip all planned, so he was a little disappointed at that time not to get to come. But this time around he's excited to be part of it to see what it's about, the life up here on the road. It'll be a good opportunity and hopefully we'll get in a couple of big wins for the fathers."
The dads should see some exciting hockey, as the Predators will be taking on two Central Division rivals--the Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets--that they defeated in Nashville within the past week. Most players believe having their fathers in the stands will lift the play of the team.
"They see you on TV and things like that, but when they're actually here, you want to do such a good job and make them proud," goaltender Chris Mason said. "Last year, the first time that I had the Fathers' Trip, we won both our games and it was just such a great time. All the dads were coming into the [locker] room after the win. It was just awesome."
"It'll be the first game he's watched this year of me, live anyway," Upshall said of his father. "It'll be comforting knowing that he's in the stands and he's supporting me here. He's always been my biggest supporter and my biggest fan, so that means everything to me. I'm sure everyone else in here realizes it's a great opportunity with everyone's fathers here to perform good."
This year the Predators' schedule bookends Christmas weekend with two road trips. The team will have Saturday and Sunday off, but will have little time before or after the holiday to be with family. Bringing the dads on the first leg of the five-game road stint allows the players to enjoy some family time despite being away from home.
"It's always nice to be around family at Christmas time," Hamhuis said. "It's tough being on the road just right before Christmas, but it's nice to have our dads along and we'll get a couple days' break, which we'll take advantage of. But unfortunately we're on the road again, which makes it tough. Christmas time is about spending time with family, and there isn't much time for us to do that this year, but we'll enjoy what we have."
For Mason, a native of Red Deer, Alberta, the post-Christmas Western Canada swing through Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton has a positive side effect. "For myself--because we're meeting the team in Calgary after Christmas, and I'm an hour away--it's the first time I actually get to go home and be there with my mom and dad, my brother, all our family and my wife's family," he said. "It's the first time in 10 years. We get a couple days there. But it's tough though, because you go on the road right after Christmas. We've got a busy schedule. This time of year it's tough to be away from your family."
"It's something you get used to," said forward Adam Hall. "It's just part of the job. It's going to be nice that some of us are going to be able to go visit our families around Christmas time. Other guys will be getting together around [Nashville]. So everybody will be with friends or family and that'll be nice this time of year."