Saturday, January 31, 2015

Blues players, fathers having time of their lives

Dads recall past experiences with sons, 
feeling proud seeing them persevere in NHL

WASHINGTON -- When Kurt Allen first stepped into the charter plane that Blues players, including his son Jake, use for trips, he couldn't believe his eyes.

"I took pictures of the plane and when I get back home, I'll say to my friends, 'You won't believe what the life is like on the road,'" Kurt Allen said.

It's far from the life of long ago when Blues dads -- and moms -- were busy raising their sons, sons who would one day don an NHL jersey.

And in this case, sons who would fulfill a dream and for their parents to enjoy.
Blues players and their fathers line the fence outside the White House
in Washington for a team portrait.

The Blues (31-13-4), who conclude their brief two-game trip with a Sunday matinee against the Washington Capitals at noon, have found life to be good with their dads in attendance the past two games.

Seventeen dads from the team's roster accompanied them this trip, and true to form, they're having the time of their lives.

"It's been really great," said Willard Reaves, Ryan Reaves' father and former NFL (Miami and Washington) and CFL (Winnipeg) running back. 

Willard has especially been pleased. Ryan has scored goals in back-to-back games and all three times Willard has seen him in person, including once earlier this season in Winnipeg.

"The last live game I saw was in Winnipeg," Willard said. "Of course he wins it with a goal in the third period, then these last two games here have been absolutely marvelous. I am proud of him. He's worked really hard coming up through the years. He's finally arrived."

And watching Ryan score?

"I was going crazy ... are you kidding me," Willard said. "I was going crazy. To watch on TV is great, but to actually be here and the kid scores, it's even more exhilarating than ever."

Kurt Allen was especially on the edge of his seat Friday night at PNC Arena. With Jake in goal and in a tight game, the elder Allen was pulling for the Blues and his son to prevail.

"Nerve-wracking. I get very nervous," Kurt said. "It's not like he's a forward or defenseman. They get a shift, they get off and you have four or five guys that bail you out. As you know, the goaltender's the last line of defense. I've been there for a lot of good times, I've been there for a lot of bad times.

"... When it got to the shootout, I was OK because he's pretty good in the shootouts. He's relaxed. I was kind of relaxed there, too, because the last time he played against Carolina, he had three shots and made three saves."

And when Jake made the final save on Eric Staal to preserve the win? There might have been a fist pump ... or two. 

"Oh yeah, yeah ... there was," Kurt Allen said. "I pretty well stayed in the back in the end, but everybody was standing up, so I had to come around and get to the front because I couldn't see it."

For these dads, it was all worth the sacrifice, the long hours, the travel -- even in arduous conditions, the expenses all worth seeing their boys excel at the highest level.

"It's a long road, for sure," said Rick Schwartz, Jaden Schwartz's father and a hockey player until midget. "He was like two years old, and then he started playing hockey at four years old. We grew up with hockey in my family. Being from Saskatchewan, that's a big part of our lives. In the winter, there's not much else to do but play hockey. 

"It's a dream come true obviously when you see your kid make it in the NHL. I'm very proud and honored. It's a lot of hard work and sweat. Dollars and time goes into it, but it's all worth it. Hopefully he has a long career and enjoys himself."

Willard Reaves, who's semi-retired and working in the management program at Costco, recalled one of his fondest memories, and it fits Ryan to a tee.
Joe and Alex Pietrangelo

"We went to Saskatchewan. This is when they first allowed the kids to start hitting," Willard recalled. "Ryan kind of bashed a kid really hard, just laid on the ice. You know the slow motion when you're on the ice and you're just sliding and you come to a complete stop and there's no movement? That's how it was. The parents happened to be sitting behind me and they were yelling at me because my kid hit their kid. I just looked at them and was like, 'I had nothing to do with that.'

"... We drove him around at 6 a.m., we're headed down whatever street that was to the cold arenas and stuff like that. It was a long haul, but this is a great reward to see him reach something that he's always wanted to do."

Ryan Reaves remembers something very fondly himself.

"I think the one that stands out with my dad is I got kicked out of a game real early and I don't know why ... I think I ran somebody and was sitting in the box," Ryan said. "My other two linemates got kicked out and sure enough, I turn left and there's my dad getting kicked out because he's fighting with another parent. I don't know what was going on. They had to call the cops in and separate them. The whole Reaves family was out of the arena, but my dad was always encouraging, never anything negative."

Every dad is soaking in everything that goes with being on the road with their kids, but for Kurt Allen, he's extremely grateful.

Coming from Fredericton, New Brunswick, which was blasted with a blizzard last week, he was simply happy to make it to St. Louis.

"The day that we left, our airports were going to shut down for two days," Kurt said Saturday. "We had 35 inches of snow. I just talked to my wife (Susan) this morning, they're getting 25 more and it's blowing and cold.

"This is only the second time I think I've been around Jake as far as the team goes. We were here for Christmas, my wife and I, but before that, when they played L.A. in the playoffs, when he got in for, what, a minute and five seconds or so, but other than that, I haven't been around much. I don't get out and about places like this much, so it's pretty neat to see. ... Spent a lot of time and a lot of trips, a lot on goalie equipment. Thank goodness I don't have to pay for that anymore."

Kurt Allen's fondest memories of Jake include a pair of names that are well-known in the hockey world.

"He was probably about seven years old, we had the NHL's old-timers in Fredericton, which I know every community has that, but Guy Lafleur was there," said Kurt, who was Jake's coach in bantam. "Guy Lafleur took him under his wing and during the pre-game warm-up, Jake was playing in net for the NHL guys, he took him out and shot on him for quite a while, just he and Jake in front of the whole crowd. That was pretty exciting.

"The other memory that I have is when he played in the World Under-18 in Kazan, Russia and they won and he won the MVP in goaltending. (Vladislav) Tretiak made the presentation to him in the final. I think we have a picture of that in the living room. Obviously I wasn't there. I was watching on TV at home, but it was still very exciting."

Don't think the boys aren't appreciative of their parents. Having their dads here is a simple payback for all that the parents have done.

"Him and my mom (Brenda), waking up early and driving me and my brother to football and hockey, to soccer to getting us to school and putting up with all our garbage all the time," Ryan Reaves said of his parents. "It's been fun to have him down here and see them enjoying themselves a little bit and thanking them for everything they did."

Said Jaden Schwartz: "They're a huge reason of why we're where we are today. They sacrificed a lot for us to be here. For us, it's fun, but I think for them, it probably means a little bit more and it's something that they won't forget. I'm sure they're having a blast."

The fathers have done a little bit of everything. Included with the travel much like their sons have that sometimes means getting into the next city in the early hours of the morning, there have been dinners, including one with legendary and recently-retired goalie Martin Brodeur; they sat in on a players meeting in which coach Ken Hitchcock warned the dads if they hear anything negative about their boys, don't take it to heart; there was also Saturday in which the players took the day off so they could take their fathers sight-seeing at some of the historical monuments around Washington, including getting pictures at the fences of the White House. They even came down the locker room after the win Friday to celebrate with their sons.

"It reminds you back when they were little tykes," Willard Reaves joked. "We had to lace up their skates and stuff like that. Now they can take their own skates off and stuff like that. The smell is the same."

"The meeting the other day was interesting of how they go about that, critique and try to improve the systems, letting the players know the systems and their roles and how important detail is," Rick Schwartz said. "To be a part of all the events and traveling with them, that's an eye-opener and very exciting for me anyway for sure."

But above it all, the dads have gotten to know one another.

"I sat with Willard on the bus (Friday) night and hearing about his football career in Miami maybe and (Washington) and then he played in the CFL in Winnipeg," Kurt Allen said. "... Talked to Mr. (Pat) Shattenkirk and found out what he does. He works on Wall Street as a banker. 

"I'm from a small area and I'm an athletic director of a high school (Leo Hayes High School) and all these guys have pretty good jobs. Mr. (Gord) Porter, he's a surgeon. You find out about a lot of different people and what they're doing. You really get to know a lot of people. And the European guys, Mr. (Bjorn) Gunnarsson and I were the first two in the suite and we just basically talked, and he told me what he did and what Sweden was like, in his hometown."

"It's been absolutely fantastic," Willard Reaves said. "Getting to meet some of the other fathers of the players and of course coming to watch my son play is something that I'll always remember.

"This is a lot easier. You're being catered and (Ryan's) paying. The repayment here is watching him fulfill a dream that he's always wanted to do. He's doing really good at it."

Now that the fathers are taking their turn, they wouldn't mind if the moms had their chance with their sons. 

After all, "They're the other half of it," Willard Reaves said.

"I'd like to get the mothers experience," Rick Schwartz said. "They're very proud as well and they did a lot of hard work. As greedy as I am, I think they should get a shot at it."

Well ... maybe not.
Gord and Chris Porter

"I don't want to see that," Kurt Allen joked. "I don't want to see (Susan) take it away from me. She said the same thing, 'When's the moms trip?'"

There very well could be one, and the Blues would be best suited to do an annual fathers trip, especially seeing the success this one has been.

"The Blues should do this every year," Willard Reaves said. "... This is something that the experience and the camaraderie of the other players and the fathers is something every team should (do)."

"You can see all the dads are so proud and excited about being a part of this organization and just being a part of this event this weekend here," Rick Schwartz said.

The fathers here representing the Blues (with sons in parenthesis) are: Bill (Brian) Elliott, Kurt (Jake) Allen, Joe (Alex) Pietrangelo, Pat (Kevin) Shattenkirk, Dan (Jay) Bouwmeester, Doug (Ian) Cole, Doug (Chris) Butler, Bjorn (Carl) Gunnarsson, James Osman (Barret Jackman), Steve (David) Backes, Tim (T.J.) Oshie, Rick (Jaden) Schwartz, Anders (Patrik) Berglund, Lennart (Joakim) Lindstrom, Willard (Ryan) Reaves, Butch (Steve) Ott and Gord (Chris) Porter.

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