The Washington-Philadelphia road trip was the first father’s trip that our team has had in a long time.
There were about 16 dads on our trip and I think each one of them were just as excited as their sons to be there. It was pretty surreal for those who had spent so many hours with their kids traveling across their home regions to hockey games and tournaments. Now, the opportunity to travel like a professional athlete was a special insight into their sons' lives.
You could really see the pride in all their faces.
Once we landed in Washington, we had the opportunity to visit the US Secret Service Training Center.
It was pretty cool to see all of the different areas that the secret service use to hone their skills as well as the training devices that help develop them into agents. We all had a fun time getting the opportunity to try out some of the simulators too.
Everyone made it out safe, although a few tires on the training cars and walls in the shooting complex may need a little repair. I think a few of the boys would be in jail for use of excessive force on the simulators too. All in all, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we all will remember.
After we returned to the hotel, the players and their fathers sat down to reflect on early memories of their playing careers. One of the lighter moments involved Pat Lalime and his father.
His dad is not very fluent in English, so during the interview, Pat would ask his dad the question in French, listen to his response and translate into English.
When he was asked about his family's emotions following Patrick’s first NHL game, his father responded in French. Upon translation, Pat repeated the exact thing he had just said in French without the English translation.
His dad gave him a puzzled look and then started laughing, which prompted Patrick and Jason Pominville -who was in the room - to burst out realizing what he did.
The team headed over to the rink with fathers in tow. When we arrived to the game the atmosphere around the Verizon Center seemed almost like a playoff game. From the moment the puck was dropped, their fans were ready. The days when it appeared that there were more Sabres fans than Caps fans at those games feels like decades ago.
The fans all wear their home red jerseys and cheer loudly for their team. With a few great cues from their pump-up video, the crowd yelled some pretty good chants. The Verizon Center has come a long way!
The team decided to stay in Washington after the game and practice in the morning.
At the end of practice, the fathers came down to the ice for some pictures and to take a few shots. After the skate, the boys headed to the media lounge to have some lunch and watch some Thanksgiving football until the bus departed for the train.
Yes the train.
The team decided to take to the rails via Amtrak to Philadelphia - yet another way to bring the players and their dads back in time a little. The ride was pretty fun though, actually, as it was a lot different travel then we are use to.
Once we got to Philadelphia, the team dropped off their stuff in their hotel room and headed down for an intimate Thanksgiving dinner for a party of 58.
One of the toughest things about NHL travel is that we are away from our families for a majority of the calendar. We spend so much time with each other, that we develop a second family within. It feels like we spend more time with our Sabres family than our namesakes most of the time. I think it was even a little more special for the guys to share the day with 16 close fans that have been with them since the first time they fell on the ice.
Since the holiday in America is a reflective one, it was very easy to see how thankful the boys are for their former coaches and mentors that they have had in their fathers, as well as the opportunity to share it with them. It was a trip like this that brings things full circle and made us all think back on the journey growing up to a life as a member of a professional sports organization.
The game in Philly was a tough battle in an even tougher building. After the game, the fathers came down to the locker room to spend some final moments with their sons in the locker room before heading home. After a few more laughs and pictures, we headed back to spend a few hours resting until the next game on Saturday in Buffalo.
After the game, the chatter among our extra guests was all the same. The fathers did not imagine how hectic and busy the days can actually be for the team on the road. Granted, we don’t usually have time for tours and sight-seeing, but the schedule isn’t always kind in the NHL. It is a pretty steady regimen that teams follows, but after a win, the hours away and time dedicated to the team are worth it.
Check out the video of the trip featured on the Sabres broadcast