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Dads ride for free on this Ducks trip

February 17, 2007|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Life for Pat O'Brien has long revolved around the General Motors assembly line in Oshawa, Canada, where he has worked for decades. This is also Toronto Maple Leafs territory, where the main highway hugs the shore of Lake Ontario.

So, when he wasn't working, yes, hockey took over. O'Brien shuttled his son, Shane, to and from hundreds of practices and games -- long car rides through snow, rain and ice, as the youngster ascended the youth hockey ranks, dreaming of the NHL.

Shane is now in his rookie season with the Ducks, and for at least a few days this week, his dad is right there with him again.

Pat O'Brien is one of a number of dads who were flown into Phoenix by the Ducks on Wednesday, starting a five-day stay with the team -- an arrangement other NHL teams have used to underscore unity and dedication.

For the Ducks, it did more. It got them a badly needed victory.

The team had arrived in Phoenix mired in a slump. Then, with their fathers watching from a suite Thursday night, the Ducks rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Coyotes, 5-4, in overtime.

"We had to give them a show," joked Teemu Selanne, whose dad, Ilmari, is on the trip.

The trip will end with the dads watching their sons play in games against the Kings at Staples Center tonight and the Honda Center on Sunday.

But the lifestyle is a bit better than what Pat O'Brien had while driving through Canada's winter weather with his boy. This time it's five-star hotels, chartered airplane rides, fine dining.

Said the elder O'Brien: "I wish I had it."

The Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings all have arranged similar father-son stays this season.

"It's one of those ideas I wish I thought of myself," Ducks General Manager Brian Burke said. "The players all think it's kind of cool.

"And," he joked, "we save money because the Niedermayers only have one dad."

Bob Niedermayer is getting quite a kick out of watching his sons, Scott and Rob. It is Bob's dream that came true when Scott signed with the Ducks in 2005. It's a far better experience than in 2003, when he saw Scott hoist the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils before consoling Rob in the Ducks' dressing room.

"For me, you can't beat it," said Bob, a doctor in the Canadian mountain city of Cranbrook. "As a parent, I never liked it when they played against each other, right from junior hockey on."

Center Ryan Getzlaf said he was looking forward to spending a lot of time with his dad, Pete, this weekend.

"He coached me for about six years when I was younger," Getzlaf said. "We had our battles like everybody else. I thought I knew more than he knew. But overall, we've been pretty close."

The presence of these men with their various shades of gray hair is bittersweet for Travis Moen, whose father, Brian, died of a heart attack five years ago at age 43.

Raised on a farm in the Saskatchewan village of Swift Valley, Moen said his dad would have enjoyed a brief taste of the bright lights of a city like Los Angeles.

"He would have been definitely tickled," he said. "He was a farm guy, so he never really got to see [the big city]. I think he only flew once in his life. He never got to see me play in the NHL, so I think he would have been pretty excited."


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