Detroit Red Wings head north for 2 games with dads bearing passports and appreciation

Detroit Free Press

Kevin Larkin took in the Detroit Red Wings’ optional practice seated next to his son, Dylan, in the stands at Little Caesars Arena, happy to be back on a fathers trip.

Larkin’s dad was among the most experienced participants as the Wings renewed a tradition that had been annual until the coronavirus pandemic disrupted everything. He only had to brave the snowy freeways around metro Detroit to get to LCA on Wednesday afternoon, while other dads arrived days earlier from countries including Sweden, Finland and Germany to accompany their sons on a trip that had them visiting the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday and the New York Islanders on Friday. Moritz Seider’s dad, Kay, was the first to introduce himself to coach Derek Lalonde.

“He comes right up to me and says, hey, I’m Seider,Lalonde said, laughing, “and I’m like, what are you, a music star? Like, no first name? Like Seal, like Bono.

“Those are those neat, awesome experiences that you get to know people a little bit, and something we’ll laugh about for a while.”

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Lalonde’s dad, Jean Jacques (“Jack”) came up from Florida for the trip; the invitation was extended to the entire coaching staff and the hockey-operations personnel that commonly travels. The thinking was to pick a two-game trip that came after at least a couple home games, giving dads from overseas a chance to come in early and watch games at LCA.

“The timing of it was great,” Lalonde said. “We got some dads in early, so most will get a chance to see three games, and experience a back-to-back in two pretty exciting buildings.

“It certainly is distracting at times, but I think there is a reality to it, some motivation to it. I really enjoy these trips.”

Dads have full access, including sitting in on meetings. When Lalonde addressed deficits in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks before practice, he found himself being a little more matter-of-fact than he might have been had there not been dads present.

The behind-the-scenes stuff is a key part of the trip.

“I think it’s cool just to show appreciation and for them to see what the day-to-day life is,” Olli Määttä said. His dad, Jari, made the trip from Jyväskylä, Finland. “You talk to them all the time about it, but just seeing it first hand, what goes into a practice day, game days — I’m sure it’s pretty cool for them.”

Usually the games are separated by a day, but it happened to work out that this one is a back-to-back — and requires crossing the U.S.-Canada border. The second crossing is estimated to take place around midnight Thursday at a smaller airport on Long Island, and will involve a customs officer coming over from JFK airport to handle the processing.

“That will show them a little bit how the travel goes and how tough it can be sometimes,” Määttä said. “Especially going across the border. But I think it’s a cool experience that way, too. They get to see all the ins and outs of that, all the off-the-ice stuff that goes into it.”

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Tyler Bertuzzi is all the more excited to bring his dad, Adrian Gedye, because Bertuzzi is expected to be available to play as soon as Thursday, just a week after he left the Wings’ game against Vegas early because of a lower-body injury.

“This is a great trip,” Bertuzzi said. “I know everyone looks forward to it. It’s bonding time with your dad, but you get to meet everyone else’s parents, or whoever they brought. It’s a lot of fun. I know they are looking forward to it. The Bell Centre is a historic building and probably a lot of them haven’t been there yet, so it’s a good building to be in.”

Bertuzzi became a first-time dad last year, and anticipates being a sports dad one day. “Hopefully she’s a golfer, or anything. I’m just looking forward to being on a soccer field, ice rink, anything,” he said. “To spend these moments with our dad, you look back and realize how much they did for us.”

Joe Veleno’s dad, Tony, lives half an hour from downtown Montreal, so he opted to meet them there in time for Wednesday evening’s group dinner.

“He got the short end of the stick, but he is just happy that he is going to be with all the parents and he is going to have the opportunity to watch me play and spend some time with me,” Veleno said. “He’ll see what it is like for us to be on the road, how we get on the plane and have to get some food in. Just seeing how we go about our business, it’s something special.”

Jonatan Berggren brought his brother, Jesper, who is 11 years Jonatan’s senior and a daily comfort.

“He’s helped me all my career, been my coach,” Berggren said. “I talk to him about hockey every day, so I think it will be a really fun trip for us to share together.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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