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Preds Work Ethic Stems From Lessons Learned From Dad

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
They work in steel factories and sawmills. They are carpenters and construction workers. They hang windows in tall buildings and build houses from the ground up.

They have performed these jobs for decades, often in bitterly cold conditions. Eight hours of work doesn’t mean it’s time to go home. It means time for lunch.

These are the fathers of the Nashville Predators players. A large segment of them have spent most of their lives getting their hands dirty to make a living. Some still do. It’s what people call ‘real man’s work.’ They provided for their families and found time to support their children’s goals.

Earlier this week, the fathers took a break and watched their sons work. The Preds’ annual Fathers’ Trip began in Nashville on Monday and ran through Tuesday’s game at Washington. To interact with the fathers is to understand why the Preds are often called a blue-collar team, full of gritty players who often outwork the opponent.

Take Tom McGrattan, 56, father of bruising forward Brian McGrattan. He is a third-generation worker at a steel factory. This is his 39th year with the company, which is located in Hamilton, Ontario.

“Hamilton is a really tough town,” Tom McGrattan said. “It’s a manufacturing town, hard working, and you only get what you earn. I think Brian received some great traits from both of his grandfathers. They were big steel guys, too. But a lot of the drive has to come from the kid himself.”

True, but many of the players said they first learned the value of hard work through their fathers. Shea Weber’s dad, James, worked at a sawmill near Sicamous, British Columbia for nearly 30 years.

“Obviously, that’s a hard job,” said Shea Weber, whose dad made the trip. “You start at the bottom piling lumber and you have to work your way up to feeding wood. It’s a labor intensive job. You’re working hard hours and come home. Then he would take me and my brother to hockey practice and would coach us. He set a great example for us. He always told us that hard work could get us anywhere in life, in school or hockey or in our jobs growing up.”

Nick Spaling sees his father in much the same way. Charles Spaling owns his own carpentry business in Drayton, Ontario and has one other employee. C. Spaling Carpentry does a wide range of work, from framing houses to building furniture.

“You get up early every day to get a full day’s work in,” said Charles Spaling, who is in his early 50s. “When you run your own business, you have to do that. There are a lot of long hours, a lot of long days. Nick saw that. He’s done a lot of stuff with me when he wasn’t going to school in the summers. He can help you shingle a roof, frame a house and do a lot of renovations.”

Nick, who has a brother and two sisters, still marvels at his dad’s dedication.

“He definitely puts in long days,” the son said. “He goes in at 6 a.m. and sometimes doesn’t get back until 7 p.m. or later. He’s pretty dedicated to getting the job done and having the detail to having it done correctly. He sets a really good example for his kids.”

Craig Smith’s father, Kevin, is a glazer. Part of his job entails installing glass in commercial buildings and building frames for windows. He spends a lot of his time working outdoors, which can be a bit chilly in Madison, Wisconsin.

“I jumped into construction after high school,” Kevin Smith, 50, said. “I ended up getting a job in that industry and stuck with it. I’m still doing it. And Craig worked hard from the start. Whenever he was on the ice, for example, he worked hard the entire time.”

Ask Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne about his father, and he beams with pride. Jukka Rinne is recently retired and spent most of his life in housing construction in Finland, mostly on the HVAC side.

“He worked for a long time,” Pekka Rinne said. “It was different back in those days. When my dad was a kid, he didn’t have a choice to go play some sport or anything like that. When he was 14 or 15, he had to go to work. It’s a lot different than my childhood was and my generation. He set a great example.”

Over time, skilled labor and long hours can harden someone. But earlier this week, none of that was evident from the players’ fathers, who gave hugs and slaps on the backs. There was a special dinner held in Washington D.C. for players and their dads, the fathers took a tour of the White House, and the proud papas took in the Preds game against the Capitals.

Smiles abounded. And a few dads couldn’t help but think back to the times when their boys first started playing the game.

“I remember coming home from work one day,” Tom McGrattan said. “Brian was like three years old, and he was already sitting on the front porch with his equipment on. I couldn’t even go in for dinner. He wanted to go directly to the outdoor rink. That’s what he was like. He was the kind of kid you had to tire out because he would never settle down.”

As McGrattan recalled the story, he soaked in the scene at Verizon Center during the Preds’ morning skate. His son has played in more than 200 NHL games, but this was their first Fathers’ Trip.

“Most parents never missed a hockey practice,” Tom McGrattan said with a smile. “Then to see him get to this level, it does take you back. A part of you still wants to tighten his skates before the game.”

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