DENVER -- On day three of the Parent’s Trip, the Buffalo Sabres and their parents gathered for dinner in the Mile High City on Friday night. Hockey was inevitably on the big screens in the room.
Teresa Miller, Ryan’s mother, reacted as you’d expect, with a big smile, her hands in the air, as Drew Miller was seen scoring a goal for the Detroit Red Wings. Cheers went up across the room. “Millsy’s brother!” one player shouted. The Sabres goaltender himself cracked a smile.
Hockey is life for NHL mothers, and Teresa was in a familiar place, watching another hockey game.
The mother of two NHL players says she often has one game on her television and the other on her laptop to keep up with both sons. She never misses a game.
They may be seen on screens and may get a good deal of attention, but Teresa Miller says, “They’re your kids. And you don’t really think of them as being any more than that.”
Drew Stafford’s mother, Debra, agreed.
“They’re real people,” she said. “I’ve had so many people over the years come up to me and say, ‘you must be so proud of your son.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not any prouder of my son than you are of your kids.’”
Diane Ennis, Tyler’s mother, said she could relate: “They’re just your kids. Jordan, Ty’s older brother, is an electrician. We always say that we’re just as proud of him as we are of Ty. They both worked hard to do what they’re doing.”
Working hard, and often, was a requirement to reach the highest level in the hockey world. For these families, it meant hockey was a way of life, and the mothers were always in the thick of it.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Ennis said. “With the kids in hockey, we were always at the rink, constantly, 24 hours. If you weren’t at the rink, you were fundraising to be at the rink. All you knew was hockey.”
“Your vacations … hockey tournaments,” she added. “Your whole life, when your kids play hockey, that’s your whole life.”
Stafford recalled going to tournaments overseas, to Russia and Paris, when Drew played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. “We were immersed in that.”
Miller said when her kids played youth hockey, it was like they were in a cult. Ryan got to play with the same group of guys for a long time. “The team manager was like the cult leader; he’d tell us where to go, what to do and where to eat,” Teresa explained.
But was it all worth it in the end? Of course it was.
Miller, Ennis and Stafford all said they watch every single game their son plays in. “And they’re taped as well,” Ennis said.
One of the toughest parts of the game for the mothers is injuries.
As if it isn’t enough to see your loved one get hurt, Stafford pointed out, “Then they show it in slow-motion, and you hate that! We feel the pain at the same time.”
“It’s nerve-racking and scary. Every time Ty is on the ice, I’m petrified,” Ennis said.
While agreeing with that sentiment, Miller said she’s learned over the years, “It is what it is. I can’t control anything.”
As for this year? The mothers believe the Sabres are turning things around.
“They’re competing,” Miller said. “And they’re competing throughout the game. They’re not always winning, but they’re right there, and at least they’re competing.”
Ennis said of a recent loss to Pittsburgh, “It didn’t feel like a loss because they were in it. A couple mistakes and that was it. But it was entertaining to watch. I think they’re turning a corner, they’re working harder.”
Hard work got them to the NHL, and hard work will keep them there too. And their mothers, as always, will be watching.
|Chris McCormick watches his son Cody at practice|
GLENDALE, AZ -- One of the remarkable things about the hockey community is how tight it is, and how many connections you’ll find if you just poke around into personal histories.
On Thursday, as the Buffalo Sabres participated in a morning skate at Jobing.com Arena in preparation for their game against the Phoenix Coyotes, family members looked on from the seats as the annual Parent’s Trip continued.
Speaking to those family members uncovered some interesting links, not just among players, but back to the coach too. Among them there is a shared history of hockey, Canada, and strong family values, along with a connection to some of the original inhabitants of Canada.
A conversation with Cody McCormick’s father, Chris, revealed that the McCormick family knew the Nolan family many years ago -- well before the two were united on a single sheet of ice in the National Hockey League.
“My grandmother’s family was raised on Ted’s reserve, and our reserve -- Batchewana -- is like five miles apart,” the elder McCormick said. “I used to play hockey with Ted’s older brother. We had a team in Garden River. I used to play cards with Ted’s dad, and I knew his mother and brothers.”
Chris McCormick, like Nolan, has First Nations’ blood. He is a descendant of the native inhabitants of what is now known as Canada.
“Chris is a family friend from way back,” Nolan said after Thursday’s morning skate. “When Cody made it, obviously we were all very proud of him making it into the National Hockey League. All of a sudden now I get to coach him, which makes it even more significant, considering growing up with his dad.”
While Chris McCormick didn’t mention it, Nolan added, “His dad is a former chief.”
The respect between the men, dating back many years, is mutual.
“Ted’s a really good guy and you can tell the improvement and the atmosphere with the players since he’s been here,” Chris McCormick said. “The spirit and them wanting to play. He’s brought it out in them.”
Some more conversations with Sabres family members in attendance revealed another connection: John Scott has First Nations blood as well.
“John’s mom is Cree Indian,” said Susan McCabe, Scott’s mother-in-law.
Nolan said he wasn’t aware that Scott had First Nations ancestry.
“I did not know that about John Scott’s mother, but I’ll dig in on that one,” he said. “It’s always good to find out a little bit more, instead of just all the time about X’s and O’s, wins and losses. There are many more stories to be told.”
Nolan added, “Sometimes we concentrate on the wrong things too often. We need to find out some good stories, and where these kids came from; some of the obstacles they had to overcome, battles they had to overcome in order to get here. To me, that’s what this game is all about, it’s about people.”
That’s what makes this trip so special. The players have the ability to spend time with the loved ones who have rooted them on and shaped them into who they are. It’s the people of the past that have molded these boys into men that compete at the highest level of hockey.
Chris McCormick recalled one memory from when Cody was in grade school, and playing community hockey.
“One of his teachers made this announcement to the class: ‘None of you guys will ever make it to the NHL.’ It was a motivator for him.”
There are good experiences and bad, but it’s the people around you who shape you into who you are. You don’t always get a glimpse into that personal history of the players, but it’s there.
McCabe said that John Scott has always been instilled with strong family values.
“He’s very involved. He’s very protective of family,” she said. “He’s a little overwhelmingly protective. It’s nice though because I feel safe. When I’m traveling, it’s nice to have him because no one bothers me. I just feel safe.”
She joked that Scott’s protective instincts could be interesting when his two-year-old daughter one day becomes a teenager.
“When my granddaughter starts dating, he’s going to put on some hockey fight tapes. He’s going to be protective. I feel bad for the guy she’s going to date. He’s protective now, but I can’t imagine.”
Family is what it’s all about.
“Family is very, very important, especially in the athletic world,” Nolan said. “Our families have to be a little bit more understanding. The athletes come home after a bad game; you’ve got to get ready for the next game. The travel, and also the wear and tear on the wives. They’re probably the unsung heroes out of everyone. They’ve got to keep life in order.”
The sacrifices come from the parents too. Chris McCormick recalls when Cody was drafted by the OHL’s Belleville Bulls at age 16.
“My wife and I were really surprised,” McCormick said. “We don’t know anybody there, had never been to Belleville. We’re going to somebody’s house and don’t know the people. And we’re going to drop off this 16-year-old kid. So that was for us, as parents, an experience.”
It ended up working out and put McCormick on the path that eventually led to the National Hockey League.
“My wife and I are really proud that he’s playing in the greatest hockey league in the world,” Chris said of his son. “I’m really glad to see that it hasn’t changed him. He’s still a down-to-earth, fine person.”
Perhaps the best part: “He’s a good father who’s got two children. He’s a really good family man.”
|Joe Giacomin with his nephew Marcus Foligno|
GLENDALE, AZ -- Close hockey teams are sometimes described as family. After all, it's with the family where it all begins.
Marcus Foligno could tell you that, as could his uncle Joe Giacomin, who was Marcus' choice to accompany him for this year's Sabres "Parent's Trip." The journey kicked off with a cross-country flight escaping the frigid Buffalo temperatures to Arizona on Wednesday. A flight attendant even joked that we were departing the North Pole. It will continue on to Colorado.
"This is a very close family, a tight-knit family, that's been through a lot of ups and downs," Giacomin said of the Foligno's. "A lot of good times, sad times, but they always had one thing: they always had a good work ethic because they had to."
Giacomin -- brother of Marcus' mother Janis, who passed away in 2009 -- said that work ethic has passed down from generation to generation since his grandparents emigrated from Italy. His own uncle, Eddie Giacomin, an NHL Hall of Famer who played for the New York Rangers, made it to the league through hard work.
"Eddie believed that if you were in the NHL, there wasn't a day off. You had to work every day to stay there," Joe said.
Marcus' father, Mike, spent a lot of time around Eddie, especially when dating Janis in high school, and he always admired him for being in the NHL, Joe said. Mike went on to a productive NHL career himself, which included 10 seasons in Buffalo.
Joe Giacomin is just one of several Sabres family members invited to participate in this year's trip. Mike Weber brought his father-in-law, Joe Fanelli.
Fanelli said he's known Mike since he was playing junior hockey for the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.
"He was kind of hanging around the house a little bit; my daughter started to date him, one thing led to another, they became an item. He went to Portland a while, then Rochester. Mike's been in the (Buffalo) system I guess six or seven years now. At 26 now, he's a veteran."
"We've enjoyed our time following Mike, following the team, and the teams he's been with."
In the past, Weber has taken Steve Ott's mother, Deb, on the annual Parent's Trip, as he billeted with the Ott family while playing in Windsor. "I guess if you hang around long enough, you get invited," Fanelli said with a laugh.
Other family members who have made the trip this year are three fathers: Vincent D'Agostini, Chris McCormick and Butch Ott; Matt Moulson's brother, Chris; Zenon Konopka's mentor, Doug Ranch; and several mothers: Diane Ennis, Marie Hodgson, Lisa McBain, Teresa Miller, Debra Stafford, Tyler Myers' step-mother Susan Myers and John Scott's mother-in-law Susan McCabe.
It's only day one, and Giacomin couldn't say enough good things about the experience so far after returning from dinner with the Ott's, Weber, Fanelli, and his nephew.
"So far it's been fabulous. I got to see Marcus. We went to dinner. We laughed, we giggled, we talked about old-school stuff, we talked about the old six teams, we talked about Eddie Giacomin. We talked about Mr. Ott being in the military for many years and the discipline he had to maintain, what he's done with his son. We're just a bunch of old guys talking about stuff we like to do."
Just members of a hockey family, the Sabres family.
The newest member of the Buffalo Sabres, Matt Moulson, answered fans questions on Twitter on Wednesday, only about 48 hours after arriving in Buffalo. Moulson answered questions on the official Sabres account in the latest #SabresTwitterview.
Read Moulson's responses below.
Drove from the airport to the rink and practiced, lol. -MM #AskMatt— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
He's great. Ens is great. It's a lot of fun. Hopefully we can keep building off that first game and the goals keep going in! -MM #AskMatt— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
It's been great. Passionate fans here. Everyone has been great welcoming me and my family. Making the transition extremely easy -MM #AskMatt— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
It's all about learning. More you play, more you learn about yourself & the league. You have to continue to get better each day -MM #AskMatt— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
The facilities here are a little bit better than the Nassau Coliseum. I've been hanging out in the lounge last couple days, it's so nice -MM— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
Team is similar to when I first joined the Islanders, a lot of young guys growing together. Always fun playing with young energetic guys -MM— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
Honestly don't think I could've expected it and a lot of paths I've taken since I was younger. It's been a long journey for me. -MM #AskMatt— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
I just got some new lacrosse sticks before I left, so I'm going to have to bring them in and throw the ball around. -MM #AskMatt— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 30, 2013
It's always fun to go north of the border, especially when you're still in Sabres Country.
These past two days, Buffalo Sabres players, alumni and team employees spent time in Fort Erie, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines to connect with the local community.
Our "Invade Canada" caravan began with a lunch and networking event with business leaders in Fort Erie. The Mayor of Fort Erie Doug Martin joined us as Sabres President Ted Black and President of the HARBORcenter John Koelmel provided an update on the state of the Sabres and HARBORcenter project. Sabres alumni Larry Playfair and Andrew Peters mingled with the crowd.
We continued on to the Niagara Health System's St. Catharines site where we were joined by Sabres forward Cody Hodgson. While it was difficult to see the children needing care, it was heartwarming to see the smiles Cody, the alumni, and Sabretooth brought to their faces.
We traveled to the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls where Sabres forward Marcus Foligno and alumni Rob Ray, Jay McKee and Richie Dunn met with youth hockey teams. Marcus spent time skating with the Niagara Falls Rivermen novice AAA team.
The invasion continued on Tuesday bright and early. Marcus put in a solid shift working the drive-thru at Tim Hortons in Fort Erie.
This is what you may have seen if you were one of those lucky customers. Sabretooth was there too.
The trip concluded with a stop at Garrison Road Public School. Marcus, Sabretooth and Rob Ray met with third graders and read them a book - about hockey, of course.