Dads assist success in Dallas, Phoenix

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- During a team meal Thursday night at a Dallas steak house, Michel Therrien stood up and announced a strict curfew for the Penguins' trip that included games at Dallas Friday and Phoenix Saturday.

"Coach made it clear -- 11 in bed, 11:30 TV off," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said.

"I wanted to make sure the guys realized that we're here to pick up four points," Therrien said.

He was greeted with laughter. Yeah, right coach, 11:30. Wink.

So he added this nugget: If the team lost to the Stars, there would be no carts for the golf outing planned Saturday in Phoenix. Everyone would walk.

It's not that Therrien has lost control of the Penguins, or his faculties.

It's just that his target audience that night was not so much the players as their fathers, who joined the team in Dallas and Phoenix for the Penguins' first dads' trip.

It was a smashing success, and only partly because the team won both games to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"This is so much fun," Henry Staal, father of Penguins rookie Jordan Staal, said. "It's fun to meet all the other dads, put a face to a name. You get to see where [the players] are, what they're doing, what their routine is. You get to become a part of it and see what goes on behind the scenes."

The fathers of nearly all the players plus a few staff members joined the Penguins Thursday for a charter flight to Dallas and roomed with their sons in upscale hotels.

There was the team dinner Thursday, a morning skate Friday in Dallas, a Friday afternoon visit to the John F. Kennedy/book depository tourist site, the golf outing in Phoenix Saturday afternoon and a charter flight home yesterday.

Not to mention a 4-3 shootout win against the Stars that included Mark Recchi's 500th career goal and a 7-2 romp against the Coyotes and coach Wayne Gretzky.

"It was good timing for the dads to come on the road with us," Therrien said. "I think players got a little extra motivation from their dads -- and they certainly didn't disappoint them."

The fathers' trip was the idea of first-year general manager Ray Shero. Nashville, where Shero worked previously, is one of several NHL teams that have made the trips an annual event.

It was designed to bring the team closer and let the fathers get a look at what an NHL road trip is like. It also gave the dads a chance to get to know each other.

"I kind of felt like we would be imposing on the coaching staff and their plans or be in our kids' way, but it's been great," Dan Whitney, father of Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, said Saturday night before heading to the dads' suite to watch the game against Phoenix.

"The highlight was the win in Dallas, getting to see Mark Recchi get his 500th goal, and Ryan was fortunate enough to get an assist."

That was before Ryan Whitney scored his eighth goal of the season against the Coyotes.

The dads also got to see the rigors of playing games in two cities on consecutive nights. With the shootout, security delays and a flight of more than two hours from Dallas, the team didn't get to Phoenix until around 2 a.m.

The Penguins scrapped their morning skate, and Dan Whitney skipped the golf outing.

"I bagged the golf with that 7 a.m. wakeup," he said.

While the players prepared for their morning skate earlier Friday, the fathers mingled and looked around American Airlines Center.

"It's nice for them to meet some of the other dads because not everybody comes to the same games when they come for a weekend in Pittsburgh," said defenseman Rob Scuderi, whose father, Bob, made the trip.

"He's never really been on a trip like this. He thinks it's kind of interesting -- what our games are like on the road."

Henry Staal has made two fathers' trips with Carolina, where Jordan's older brother, Eric, plays.

"I love it. I think it's a great idea," Henry Staal said. "Last year [the Hurricanes] won the Stanley Cup and since we had done the trip earlier, we all knew each other before the playoffs."

The Penguins seemed to get a boost on the ice from the experience.

"It was a tough trip," center Sidney Crosby said. "With our dads being here, maybe it pushed us a little bit more. It was nice to get those two wins."

In fact, late Saturday night at Jobing.com Arena, team officials joked that the fathers now will have to make all the road trips.

At least it was presumed they were joking.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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