A little Son-shine for Sens' dads

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:09 AM ET

MONTREAL — Practice at the Bell Centre on Friday was maybe half done when Shean Donovan skated to the boards with a slightly pained expression on his face.

As his teammates looked on, the soon-to-be 35-year-old veteran exited the ice and looked into the stands.

“My skates are too tight, dad,” Donovan whined. “Can you loosen them for me?”

Brian Donovan laughed, as did the other fathers in attendance, no doubt remembering fondly when such a plea was for real.

Like the laces on a boot, the Senators have pulled past into the present this weekend by bringing the dads of 17 of their players on the final two stops of this five-game road trip.

“It’s like in the old days,” said Hasse Alfredsson, Daniel’s dad and, as his coach between the ages of 6-15, his roommate at many a minor hockey tournament in Sweden. “It’s nice.”

From as far away as Europe also came Harri Ruutu, Jonas Karlsson and Regin Jensen (Peter Regin’s dad) as the pops met Chad Schella, the team’s director of player services, at Scotiabank Place early Friday morning. There, they were presented nice black Senators jackets and bused to Montreal. After practice, they joined their sons for a meal on the top floor of the Sheraton Hotel. Following that, there was some do-what-you-want time that led into another group get-together at Gibbys, a famous Montreal steak and seafood house.

“I think (the players) are looking forward to the next couple of days,” said coach Cory Clouston. “If it’s any indication, they had a real good skate (yesterday) morning. So we should bring (dads) around more often.”

Fathers would experience travelling in the fine style their boys do for the first time immediately after last night’s game as the team’s charter headed for Boston, and more quality bonding time leading up to Monday’s meeting with the Bruins.

“This is phenomenal, for a father to get to see what goes on,” said Rino Spezza, Jason’s dad. “You go to practices when you’re in town, but this way you actually get to fly with them, experience the game-day ritual, get to see how the players are acting, get on the plane with them ... just the whole aspect. Aside from playing the game, you’re with them. It’s pretty good.

“Not only that, you get to meet the other fathers. Jason’s been here six years, and there have been so many changes you don’t even know most of the other fathers.”

Most other organizations set aside a similar trip during the season to bring the dads. Patrick Shannon was on one with the Anaheim Ducks and another with the Vancouver Canucks, when his son Ryan played for those teams. Gino Campoli went on four of them when his lad Chris was a New York Islander. He and Trent Hunter’s dad Stan became inseparable friends, while a family member of Garth Snow gave the Islanders GM grief for trading Chris, saying “now I don’t get to see Gino anymore.”

Unlike other teams, however, the Senators decided to have fathers and sons room together, rather than pair off dads with other dads. Great idea, except that by yesterday morning, Chris Neil was joking about being ready to trade his dad, Barry.

“A snorer,” Neil said, winking.

Patrick Shannon said there was “pressure” rooming with an NHL player who needs his rest.

“You can’t wake him up. You have to be quiet,” Patrick said. “It used to be he had to be quiet to care for dad. Now I have to sneak in and out.”

Asked what it meant to him to have his dad Jim on the trip, Mike Fisher was quick with a quip.

“It means I get a roommate now,” replied Fisher, who earlier this season passed the 600-career game mark that allows veterans their own hotel space on the road. “I’m not used to one.

“Everyone’s excited. He’s been so excited to come, and be part of it, to see what we do on the road. And it’s good father-son time. They’ve all done so much for us when we were younger, it’s kind of nice for them to be able to see what they’ve helped us get to.”

While the trip was planned by the team before the season started, not all of the players told their dads about it right away. At Fisher’s hockey camp in the summer, another pro asked Jim if he was looking forward to the father-son weekend. Jim admitted he knew nothing about it. Then, at a post-game dinner that included families in December, Daniel Alfredsson had the same question for Jim, who again pleaded ignorance.

“Mike turned to Alfie and said, “that was his Christmas present from me,” remembered Jim, laughing. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us. We watch them play, but you don’t see the dressing room side of it. You don’t get to experience the planes, and any of that kind of thing. I don’t get a lot of details from Mike on that kind of stuff, so it’s great to witness it first- hand.”

When Clouston was asked if the fathers had a curfew, especially in a fun city like Montreal, he replied yes.

“It’s about 10 p.m.,” Clouston snickered.

Accompanied on the trip by his dad Dennis, Matt Carkner sounded like he thought that might not be a bad idea.

“We were just talking, we might have to get the dads a buddy system so they don’t get lost out there,” Carkner said Friday. “After a few beers, I’m sure they’ll be wandering the streets. Maybe we can get them one of those strings the day cares have, so they’re all tied together.”

Come to think of it, the moms deserve a bouquet for not objecting to such an excursion.

“My wife said, just stay out of the papers,” laughed Rino Spezza.

Other than this piece fully supporting the long overdue trip, that is.


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