Gagners embrace rare chance

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

It's a feeling few people will have the chance to emulate.

Father and son may work together in the same company. They may do the same job and hang out together. But it isn't often that father and son are able to compete at a highly competitive level on the same team at the same time.

The most famous father/son combination featured Gordie Howe, who played professional hockey with sons Marty and Mark.

While Dave Gagner and son Sam won't get the chance to play professionally together, they turned back the clock, at least for Dave, when they suited up for the same team in the Euro Can Cup this week at the John Labatt Centre.

It was quite a debut for the father/son team against Linz from Austria. Dave, who hadn't played in 10 years, scored two goals, his first in the 21st century. Sam scored a pair as well and earned an assist on his dad's second goal.

"It's a real thrill," Sam Gagner said. "Not many people get a chance to do this. He retired when I was like, 10 years old."

Dave, 44, and Sam, 20, have had a hockey connection since Sam put on skates. His dad coached him in minor hockey and when Sam played for the London Knights and Dave was an assistant coach.

Sam is entering his third year as an Edmonton Oiler and Dave is director of player development for the Vancouver Canucks.

Dave has a home in London, where the family spends its summer. Dave and Sam operate the Power Play Training Centre, a gym at the Western Fair Sports Centre. Dave will be moving to Vancouver with his wife and one daughter and expects eventually to sell his house here.

So even though son and dad are in different cities working for different organizations, when the hockey season starts a connection is never far off.

"I talk to him almost every day," Sam said. "He's helped me get through things. He knows the bumps you run into when you go through the season. He's great at helping me get through those."

This summer, it was Sam who helped Dave get into shape. The goal wasn't to play together in this tournament but as his dad lost weight and hit the weights, it looked like he might be able to play.

"The last couple of days, it looked like he had a lot of pop."

He certainly did.

Dave played 16 years in the NHL and scored 318 goals and 719 points. He retired in 1999. Since then he's played in some pro tournaments and three-on-three events but nothing as competitive as the Euro Can Cup.

He said his son "challenged" him to get in shape during the summer.

"I was training with Sam and some of the younger guys all summer whenever I was in town," Dave said. "My wind feels good. My legs feel strong. It's just short term. But to play a season . . . no."

The tournament continues until the championship game on Monday. No matter what happens from now on, there is no denying how special Tuesday was.

"It's something all dads can relate to. They want their sons to be given the opportunity to do what they like," Dave said. "It's special as a dad. It's neat when your son has the same interests that you do. He's always loved hockey, followed it passionately. It hasn't been a hard sell for me. I didn't have to push him too much. It's special in a lot of ways for him to have that kind of success because that's what he wants to do.

"It is very satisfying. I know how hard he works at it. He gets out of it what he puts into it and that's a lot.

It was topped up with what had to be the ultimate feeling for a parent.

"It's awesome to be able to play with my son," he said. "It's special. It's what I wanted. Part of the reason I wanted to play was to get a chance to play with him. At this age, I'll never get another chance to do this again."

That is until Friday night when the Knights play their second game of the tournament against Zug.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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