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This article was published 18/1/2019 (1301 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NASHVILLE — It was an odd sight, to be sure, Thursday night. Side-by-side luxury boxes at Bridgestone Arena filled with blue-clad hockey fans cheering wildly for the visitors.
A tiny island flying Jets Nation colours surrounded by a vast sea of Predators yellow.
It’s a good thing the folks of Nashville take kindly to strangers, but these guys were harmless: about 35 special guests of the Winnipeg Jets, just along for the ride.
Each one of the Jets’ regular travellers has either a family member or friend accompanying them on a two-game road trip to Nashville and Dallas. Players, coaches, trainers and even the host broadcasters have a dad, brother or buddy tagging along on the quest to bounce a couple of Central Division rivals before bolting for a week-long break.
And they were treated to a dandy Thursday night in the Tennessee capital, a 5-1 romp over the Predators. The division leaders from Winnipeg (31-14-2) now have a four-point lead over the second-place Predators (28-17-4) and have played two fewer games.
Next up are the falling Stars (23-21-4), losers of four straight, including their last three at home, the American Airlines Center. Boos rained down from the crowd there Thursday as Dallas fell 2-1 to the lowly Los Angeles Kings.
The Jets' guests hope the misery continues Saturday night. Game time is 6 p.m.
"It’s been terrific. It’s been so well done by the Jets organization," said John Roslovic, Jack's father.
"It’s nice meeting all the other dads, the family members, hearing about their boys. So, it’s exceeding (and) what I thought it was going to be. I’ve never eaten so much in my life. I guess that’s what happens when you hang out with a bunch of (players) that are burning 3,000 or 4,000 calories a day."
But this trip is about so much more than just getting a premier seat in the house to watch sons, brothers or pals win games. It's a memory-maker.
"It’s kind of, ‘take your kid to work day’ but in the opposite direction — ‘take your dad to work,’ Jets head coach Paul Maurice said earlier this week. "From a player’s point of view, I don’t know if 'show-off' is the right word, but you always want that approval from your dad, that nod that you’ve done well.
"For all of us a little older, if you have kids you have a great understanding of the joy that (the family members) must see. It’s not just playing in the NHL, it’s watching your son interact with his teammates and joke around and have fun and look like he’s enjoying his life. And then you come to a game and see your kid work really hard, right? That’s what everybody wants, that work ethic. You can’t get to NHL without one."
John Roslovic owns a construction company in Columbus, Ohio, and the family still has season tickets right behind the Blue Jackets' bench. Jack, just two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, grew up staring at the name bars sewn on the backs of the jerseys worn by Rick Nash, David Vyborny and Adam Foote, among others.
In June 2015 the Jets made him the first-ever Columbus-born player to be drafted (first round, 25th overall). He made his NHL debut just 25 minutes from home at Nationwide Arena in Columbus late in the 2016-17 season.
"I used to feel a little nervous about watching the games, but Jack learned at a very early age how to be a very adaptable player. So, as time has gone on he’s gotten more comfortable with his game. Some parts are getting easier and some parts he still needs to work on," his dad said.
"It’s been fun (to watch) since his debut in Columbus, and now being on the team on a regular basis."
The fathers and the rest of the guests are savouring the trip because they get to peek into the professional lives of the kids they raised. They're on the chartered plane, taking in morning skates, accessing the dressing room and hanging out in the same high-end hotels.
The contingent used the day off Friday to play some indoor golf in Dallas, while there was some talk other would take in the Sixth Floor (JFK) Museum, which chronicles the 1963 assassination of the U.S. president in that city.
"It’s really unbelievable (being on the trip)," said Chuck Hellebuyck, who witnessed a 37-save performance by son Connor in the Jets net Thursday. "I went to Winnipeg last year during the playoffs and met some of the parents there. Now you’ve got people within the organization and their dads are here as well. For the organization to do that, it’s really kind of a crazy thing."
Players love it because it's a unique opportunity to give back to someone special in their lives who supported their dream of playing in the NHL.
"It’s awesome to see all the smiles on all of the father’s faces. To experience this with them is something special, said Brandon Tanev, who tipped in his 11th goal of the season Thursday, already three more than he scored last year.
"We’re very appreciative of the organization for doing something like this for us."
Tanev's father, Mike, is a veteran of these trips. His eldest son, Chris, is a defenceman in Vancouver and he's been a guest on a couple of Canucks trips, including one in late October.
Raising three boys — two future NHLers along with youngest son, Kyle — made for a hectic but happy Toronto household.
"(The boys) growing up, it was very, very competitive. Those two guys were really competitive, but small. The story goes that Chris was out of hockey for two years, Brandon was out of hockey for 4 1/2 years at the crucial ages growing up," he said.
"No one would take them in the city, because all of our rocket scientists in Toronto figured if they were too small, they can’t play. Thankfully, they grew."
Brandon, 27, played four seasons with the Friars at Providence College in Rhode Island before signing as a free agent with Winnipeg at the tail end of the 2015-16 season.
"One of the things Brandon always had was he could skate. He was able to turn that into, knock on wood, hopefully a good, long NHL career," his father said.
"He’s very tenacious on the puck and he’s trying to carve out his own niche for what he is. I think last year’s playoffs, the run that they had, gave him a little bit more, "Hey, I can do this, I can play with these guys and I can compete.'"
Chris, 29, is the more cerebral, methodical player, while Brandon — as Jets fans can attest — is in perpetual motion, Mike explained.
"Brandon always tended to be that guy that would always be in a hurry to do stuff. He’s always wound up and I’ve tried to get him to calm down. His hands now — because he's going a little bit slower in the offensive zone— his hands have started to catch up with his body," he said.
"It’s obviously elation when he puts one in. I thought he had the hands to be a decent scorer."
A pair of Jets, Brendan Lemeiux — who scored twice in Nashville, his fourth and fifth goals of the year — and Adam Lowry have fathers who had long and storied NHL careers. Dave Lowry is an assistant coach with the L.A. Kings and couldn't make the trip, but four-time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux is just one of the gang.
"It’s awesome. He’s my agent, too, so he’s around a lot, but it’s been cool to see him with all the dads and have them all here supporting us," said Brendan.
Chuck Hellebuyck said he was fortunate to participate in a similar Jets trip to Denver and St. Louis three years ago when his son was recalled from the AHL's Manitoba Moose following an injury to then-starter Ondrej Pavelec.
His son started at home against the Carolina Hurricanes a few days before the trip, but got the hook just 4 1/2 minutes in, after allowing three goals on six shots.
Four nights later in St. Louis, he made amends — and made dad proud — stopping 21 of 22 shots and another three in the shootout in a 2-1 victory over the Blues.
Chuck admitted whether he's watching live or on the high-def screen back home in Commerce, Mich., he lives and dies with just about every shot on Connor's net.
"A lot of parents told me not to put my kid into goaltending, but he loved it from an early age and I let him chase his dream," said Chuck, an electrical engineer who has written 10 technical books. "As a goalie dad, you’re watching a little bit different game than everybody else. It’s just a fact. I have a son who was a centreman and it was fun to watch him, and then I’d watch Connor and you’re more nervous."
This weekend, he's enjoying some extra time with his son but knows when to give the 25-year-old puckstopper some space.
Connor said his father definitely knows the drill.
"It’s really great. It’s extremely exciting for me, too, because I can see how much fun he’s having. But when I go through my everyday routine, I know he’s not going to bother me at all. He knows on game day to leave me alone and let me get into my rhythm, and he’s just going to enjoy it with all the other dads," he said.
Some of the guests are bunking with the players — but no chance that's happening with the travelling Hellebuycks.
"I think it was two or three years ago, we had a dad’s trip and he snored all night. So, I think he drew the line right there when I kind of yelled at him for snoring — or throwing pillows at him, whatever you want to call it," said Connor.
"(This time) he's got his own room."
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