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Wings take dads on 'Thank you' trip

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings' dads and mentors have traveled with their sons from Los Angeles to New York, and every NHL city in between. This year's trip began in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday and finishes in Nashville on Tuesday.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Asked if his father was on the Red Wings’ annual fathers/mentors road trip, Jordin Tootoo weaved a pretty believable tale that included a dozen dogs and a sled.

See, Tootoo grew up near an old nickel mine in the Inuit hamlet of Rankin Inlet on the northwestern edge of Hudson Bay, about 240 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

So when he said that his dad was on the trip, Tootoo couldn’t pass on the chance to string along a few gullible reporters, telling them of his dad’s harrowing week-long junket by dog sled just to get to civilization where he could catch a flight to Detroit.

“Only eight dogs made it,” said Tootoo, who barely got the words out before cracking a smile.

“How’d you like that story?” he said, laughing.

It was believable.

Barney Tootoo taught his son to live off the land, to build shelter from blocks of glacier and to hunt for food. He taught him to be independent, to ignore pain, and to shun fear. So it was believable to think that travel from the treeless, endless white permafrost would be equally challenging.

What wasn’t to believe?

But all joking aside, the Tootoos look forward to the annual trip, and have every year since Jordin began playing in the NHL with the Nashville Predators.

Naturally, Barney Tootoo also introduced his son to hockey.

“He was a little shifty around the net more than he was (at) dropping the gloves,” Jordin said, of his dad. “My mom likes the more physical stuff. She’s the one that created all of the physical part (of me) when I was growing up. It’s all good. It’s a balance.”

This week’s trip is Jordin’s first with his new club, which got underway Saturday in Minnesota, where the Red Wings will face-off against the Wild at XCEL Energy Center on Sunday.

“Obviously everything has been different here, not only for myself, but I think a lot of people around here,” Tootoo said. “Obviously, my dad is excited to meet a lot of the other dads and the players.”

For Tootoo, the trip is a way for him and other players to show their gratitude to their dads, or in some cases, other men who mentored them.

“Our parents have been there through thick and thin and this is kind of a ‘thank you’ to them for showing us the ropes,” he said. “And now it’s kind of our turn to show them what we kind of do on a daily basis.

“I also think it’s a great opportunity for all of our fathers to reflect on their kid’s pasts, reminisce and have a good time with each other.”

Justin Abdelkader, Daniel Cleary, Carlo Colaiaicovo, Cory Emmerton, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall, Drew Miller, Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, and Henrik Zetterberg are among the players, coaches and training staff hosting their dads, brothers, friends and mentors on the two-game trip, which concludes Tuesday in Nashville.

With the lockout shortened schedule and games being played every other day, it would have been easy for the Wings to eliminate this year’s trip. But coach Mike Babcock wouldn’t hear of it.

“This is one of the things we do, so why wouldn’t we have it?” he said. “The dad’s didn’t plan the lockout, they had nothing to do with. We like having them. It’s a great thing to do. … We’ve been doing it ever since I’ve come here. It’s lots of fun.”

However, not every player has someone on this four-day journey. But it wasn’t all that bad for Damien Brunner, whose parents returned to Switzerland after spending a week with their oldest son.

“They enjoyed it. It’s been awesome,” said Brunner, of his parents’ visit. “We spent a lot of time together. They were impressed with the arena and all the other stuff around the Red Wings.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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