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Home Road Trip Road trip to remember as fathers/mentors join club on western swing – Winnipeg Free Press

Road trip to remember as fathers/mentors join club on western swing – Winnipeg Free Press

by Staff

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Neal Pionk figures the suggestion box might be overflowing the next few days, although just how much of that feedback gets passed along to the higher-ups might be another matter entirely.

The Winnipeg Jets defenceman was asked about the dads/mentors trip his team is taking this week and went with a humourous response. But it’s one of those situations when a shred of truth might actually be behind the joke.

“I think we have 30 coaches coming with us, so there will be a lot of Xs and Os,” Pionk said Tuesday night, after the Jets registered an impressive 4-2 victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. “They should put up a white board in the suite and see which dad grabs it first. Drawing up plays, it will be fun.”


Jets defenceman Dylan Samberg, with his father, Michael.

When you get 30 additional hockey-loving fathers and mentors in the same space for five days, there’s bound to be plenty of opinions expressed.

The good news for head coach Rick Bowness and the coaching staff is that while there will certainly be plenty of friendly banter on the horizon, there isn’t much to criticize these days when it comes to the Jets, who open a three-game road trip on Thursday (9:30 p.m.) against the San Jose Sharks.

The only area of concern these days would be special teams.

The Jets’ power-play struggles continue and the penalty kill has recently sprung another leak, giving up two goals against the Lightning to remain near the bottom of the NHL in terms of efficiency.

For the record, the Jets are well aware of those special teams struggles and are taking steps to get them turned around, even if it’s taking longer than they’d hoped.

Even the fathers who were actually coaches — and there are several on the trip — are sure to keep their internal thoughts to themselves or to fellow fathers, recognizing trips like this one are about the bonding time and lasting experience.

“Yeah. It’s special. This is going to be the first time for me and my dad,” said forward Cole Perfetti. “He’s put so much into this. Both of my parents. But my dad, I think when I told him he nearly passed out he was so excited. He’s so fired up to be here. Something that he always thought was a cool thing to do. He’s going to be able to see behind the scenes of how we travel, how we live as NHL players.

“I’m just excited to share this moment with him. He’s going to be smiling ear-to-ear the whole time. He can’t wait. It’s going to be a special moment for the both of us.

“Everyone is really looking forward to this trip. Lots of guys have done this before so it may not be as exciting. But for me, for both of us, me and my dad, it’s brand-new stuff. So, exciting.”

The itinerary is compact, with three games against Western Conference rivals over a four-day span, although a team dinner was scheduled for Wednesday night and a golf outing is on the docket for Saturday’s off-day in Arizona.

Bowness has been part of several of these trips during his coaching career and sees plenty of tangible benefits.

“It’s awesome,” said Bowness. “It’s a great opportunity for the team and the players to thank the fathers for their contributions and the sacrifices they make to get here. We don’t get to spend enough time with our family during the winter. So, it is a special time they get on the road trip with them.”

That gratitude element is top of mind for many players when it comes to the ability to pull back the curtain and provide a glimpse to what life can be like on an NHL road trip.

“My dad is excited. He missed my brother’s (dads trip) because he had knee surgery. He thought he’d be able to fly a week post-op but that wasn’t possible,” said forward Morgan Barron, whose brother, Justin, plays defence for the Montreal Canadiens. “I was joking with Cole Perfetti (Tuesday) morning, I think my dad was asking me when the fathers trip was before the schedule even came out for the year. He was just so ready to figure out when it was.

“We’re so excited to have them along for the ride. My dad, in particular, has no idea what our life looks like on the road. I think he’ll be shocked to find out how well we’re treated. As much as I’ve tried to describe it to him, it’s different when you actually get to see it.”

It’s a chance to share in the culmination of what all the hard work and early drives to the rink back in the minor hockey days have brought for a player who reaches the pinnacle of the sport.

                                Cole Perfetti and his dad, Angelo, at the airport.


Cole Perfetti and his dad, Angelo, at the airport.

“It means everything,” said Barron. “I just took a peek into the goody bag that he got, seeing the golf shirt and the jersey and all of the stuff, I know he’s going to be over the moon.”

“For him to come on the road, he’s never been to California or Arizona, so to get to travel a little bit, see some rinks and get to see us play but also experience how we get to live and see how fortunate we are, it will definitely put things in perspective…”

For Bowness, his mentor was his late father, Bob, who played semi-pro in the 1950s and ’60s.

“For me? Oh, it’s always my dad. He’s the one that gave me the passion for the game. It always goes back to him,” said Bowness, who played parts of nine pro seasons (1975-1984) including 173 NHL games split between the Atlanta Flames, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Jets (1980-81) before turning to a long coaching career. “You get a bird’s-eye view of it and it’s good for the parents, it’s good for the grandfathers who are coming, it’s good for anyone who knows and who are very close with the players, just how we live and how we travel.

“And the demands of the road on our team and on the players. It’s an eye-opener but it’s a bonding thing and I love that. I’m so happy the league has started to do these things. I think it’s tremendous. This is a family commitment, to get the players here. They all should feel part of it.”

On the ice, the Jets have put together an incredibly consistent stretch of hockey, moving to 26 consecutive games of allowing three goals or fewer as they’ve improved to 23-9-4 on the season.

Oddly enough, the one regulation loss in the past 10 games came in San Jose (2-1, Dec. 12). The Sharks immediately went in the opposite direction, losing nine in row last month while being outscored 40-14.