By Ashlan Williams
The Predators get to spend some quality time on the road with their fathers, a small repayment and well-deserved reward for the sacrifices made to get their sons to the NHL
It’s a priceless tradition that unites two of the most important things to each of the Predators: hockey and fathers.
“You think about the person who sacrificed the most throughout your whole career since you started playing at age 3, and it’s him,” forward Chris Mueller
Once a year, the dads of all the Predators travel hundreds and thousands of miles to attend the Predators’ annual Father’s Trip. This year’s trip brought all the fathers along to the City of Brotherly Love for the Predators’ Feb. 3 contest against the Flyers.
Kenn Sullivan, father of forward Steve Sullivan, has attended every trip since his son’s first full season with the Preds in 2005-06. He always looks forward to what the event has to offer.
“What’s good about [the Father’s Trip] is the fact that you know whatever they have planned is going to be well done, and it’s always first class,” Kenn Sullivan said.
One of the first teams in the league to have this event, each year the Predators give their fathers the opportunity to experience life on the road with an NHL team, all while spending quality time with their son.
For second-year attendee Charles Spaling, father of forward Nick Spaling
, the trip was exactly that.
“It’s a dream come true for a dad just to be here, to be on a trip with an NHL team,” Charles Spaling said. “It’s just amazing being able to see what they do, following them around all day, getting to see all the meetings they have – all the preparations they do. That’s something you never get to see. To be with them throughout the day during their whole routine is awesome.”
Not only did they get insight into road life, but the fathers simply got to enjoy traveling to games with their son, just like when they were growing up.
“It means everything because you did it when they were younger,” Charles Spaling said. “Still doing the same thing even at this level – it’s pretty neat.”
While the week held many events, including a team dinner and an opportunity to see some of Philly’s history, like the Liberty Bell, for many of the fathers and sons, the highlight was simply spending time with each other.
Forward Matt Halischuk
emphasized the importance of an opportunity like this for a professional hockey player.
“I haven’t really had a chance since I’ve turned pro to kind of do this,” first-year Predator forward Matt Halischuk
said. “Being away and stuff, I don’t really see my parents that much, and so this was great.”
But it’s more than just spending time together, Steve Sullivan said it’s about having that extra time to go deeper.
“We all have busy schedules,” Steve Sullivan said. “We don’t really have a chance to really just talk and just talk about everything and anything with no schedule, no time frame… You’re with each other for the three days. We’re nonstop with our fathers, and you’ve got a lot of time to talk about things that you probably wouldn’t talk about over the phone or on a quick little trip. So, it’s great.”
With an 82-game schedule consuming seven months of their year, the Father’s Trip is the only chance for many of the fathers, like Rich Mueller, father of Chris Mueller
, to spend quality time with their son during the season.
“This is it,” Rich Mueller said. “He hasn’t had Thanksgiving dinner since he was about 14 years old with the family, so it’s a big deal to be with him for awhile for the Fathers’ trip.”
Rich Mueller didn’t even know about the trip until his son got called up just days before. But when Chris told him about the trip, he dropped everything to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I was on a business trip in Las Vegas two days [before the trip],” Rich Mueller said. ‘I didn’t know if he was going to get called back up. When he [did], he told me about this, and I canceled my business trip.
“I wasn’t checking the schedule, and then I found out that a lot of dads were staying for the Saturday game, which I was going home Friday. Well, I [canceled] my flight and [went] home on Sunday.”
For the fathers, the trip gave them the opportunity to see first hand all their son has accomplished.
“We’re kind of reminiscent,” Rich Mueller said. “We looked back on some of the kids that we thought at a young age were superstars and thought ‘wow, this kid may make it.’ Then, all the sudden, you see your kid. It’s like the pyramid is so small at the top, and ‘wow, he finally got there.’
For John Halischuk, father of Matt Halischuk
, who was also called up just days before the trip, it was a chance to see his son play in the professional hockey environment.
“I’d have to say [my favorite part was] watching him play because I don’t get a chance to actually watch him play during a game,” John Halischuk said. “You know, I can see him on TV or watch on the Internet, but you don’t actually get to see the whole thing – what’s happening away from the play, what’s happening on the bench—those are the things I really value the most.”
For the players, the trip put their biggest fan out in the crowd.
Although the Predators didn’t pull out a win against the Flyers, but they still had a suite full of proud fathers cheering them on at the end of the game, something Steve Sullivan said has been important since they were kids.
“We’re always looking for affirmation,” Steve Sullivan said. “We always have, and we always will. So, when he’s here, of course you want to do well for him.”
But at the end of the day, the Father’s Trip is simply about giving back to the one who gave so much to you.
“When you get to a certain point, you don’t work for yourself,” Chris Mueller
said. “You don’t want to accomplish things for yourself, you want to do it for the people who sacrificed and supported you so much.”