THANKS, DAD Fathers Trip highlights hockey influences in players’ lives
WILKES-BARRE — It didn’t matter where they came from or how noteworthy their own hockey backgrounds had been.
One by one, the fathers that journeyed to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins practice Thursday greeted their sons with open arms as they walked off the ice and toward the dressing room. And one by one, the players responded with hugs and huge smiles across their faces.
It was a scene years in the making on both sides.
“I was fortunate enough to be a coach for 20 years on the hockey side for all different levels,” said Roger Haggerty, father of Penguins forward Ryan Haggerty. “Going to the rink and having (Ryan) there and being around, I just enjoy watching it. You don’t get any more enjoyment than that.”
The Toyota SportsPlex was just the first stop on the Penguins’ first ever “Fathers Trip,” which brought many team players and personnel and their dads together for this weekend’s games against Belleville and Laval. Those that couldn’t make it for the bus ride on Thursday joined the team in Canada, providing an added source of motivation for both games.
Such trips have become popular among NHL teams, but they might be even more impactful to a team like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The AHL season is essentially at its midpoint, where the playoff picture has yet to take shape but the initial excitement of opening night has long worn off.
In other words, a perfect time for the players to reconnect with one of the biggest influences that helped get them to this stage in their careers.
“I’ve never been on a dads trip in this league,” said forward Christian Thomas, whose father, Steve, recorded 933 points over a long NHL career and was slated to join the team later in the weekend. “He came with me to the last tournament I was at, and it was special to have him. He was my roommate, too, which was funny.
“It’ll be a good family party, I guess.”
Some players, like defenseman Jarred Tinordi, have been around professional hockey since the time they were born. His father, Mark, played during the 80s and 90s and was a longtime defenseman for the Minnesota North Stars and Washington Capitals.
Even though the elder Tinordi skated in an entirely different era — he said the current game is a vast departure from the fight-heavy, rough-and-tumble style he had to play — he sees this trip as a great opportunity to not only talk hockey with his son, but also share stories with other players and parents present.
And unlike in years past when he might have watched with a more critical eye, he has developed an appreciation for the current opportunity Jarred has earned himself with the Pittsburgh organization. Even if the Penguins beat Mark’s North Stars in the 1991 final.
“You watch the game, you kind of know what’s going to happen and you can see if he’s in the right spot,” Mark Tinordi said. “Now, I kind of just watch and enjoy it. The first couple years when he just got drafted, you’re like anxious and stuff. But now I think he’s getting to go where he’s going to go, so it’s good.”
Roger Haggerty, meanwhile, can look back and be happy knowing the patience and determination he tried to instill in his son has paid off at the professional level.
A former three-sport athlete and minor leaguer in the Boston Red Sox system, he felt somewhat helpless watching Ryan overcome an injury while playing for Rockford in 2015-16, only to see his playing time cut for factors out of his control.
“It’s kind of hard to watch, as a father, when that happens because you don’t have any answers,” Roger Haggerty said. “But he’s persevered, and hopefully he gets the opportunities to get a chance.
“The way he’s developed himself and carries himself on and off the ice has been impressive.”
One of his best hockey memories is watching Ryan play in his first exhibition game at Madison Square Garden and have two goals, and he’s hopeful there are plenty more to come.
Perhaps this weekend will be one of them, given it’s a significant role reversal from all the trips father and son made to the rink years ago. So, even though there was hockey to be played, the past couple days definitely had a more personal feel for all involved.
“It’s a business trip for us, and we’ve got two wins to focus on,” Ryan Haggerty said. “But, it’s also enjoyable to have (my father) around on the road.
“You don’t get a lot of times where they get to travel and experience a couple games. It’s just going to be a neat experience. They’re going to enjoy it as much as us players.”
Jarred and Mark Tinordi.
Roger and Ryan Haggerty.
Greg and Zach Trotman.
Pat and Tom McGrath.