After the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins wrapped up a routine practice on Wednesday, there was a greater feeling of excitement in the locker room.
Granted, things can get mundane for a hockey team during the long winter months, but the Penguins have a few things to look forward to which has generated a buzz.
On Thursday, several players will have their fathers join them as the team hosts its first “Dads’ Trip.”A handful of fathers will watch their sons practice on Thursday and then join them for lunch before traveling with the team for its weekend road trip to Canada, where several more dads will link up with their sons.
“It gives you a little extra jump,” said Jean-Sebastien Dea of the trip to Canada. Dea grew up in La Prairie, Quebec, which is near Laval, where the Penguins play on Saturday.
The first stop on the Canada trip will be in Belleville, Ontario, on Friday, and it will mark the first time the Penguins have traveled outside of Pennsylvania since Dec. 15-16 when they played in Connecticut.
While the Penguins are excited for the upcoming trip, the anticipation also extends to the fans in Canada. Defenseman Kevin Spinozzi, who is from Granby, Quebec, and has family in the area, said his relatives had trouble getting tickets for Saturday’s game in Laval.
“They were trying to get tickets about a month ago and it was pretty much sold out,” Spinozzi said, adding that playing in Laval will be similar to playing in front of an NHL crowd. “That’s self-explanatory for how much they love hockey there.”
Playing in Laval carries extra significance for the Penguins because it’s the city where Mario Lemieux began his junior career in the early 1980s. Lemieux totalled an astounding 562 points in 200 games during his three seasons with the Laval Voisins, and his impact to the city is still felt today.
“They love Mr. Lemieux. They still idolize him,” Spinozzi said. “The fans love what he did for the city and how much of a respectful player he was.”
Dea said the fans in Laval and the entire Montreal area pay close attention to the AHL team because they always follow the Canadiens’ prospects with the Rocket.
“Even when Montreal sends someone down, they want to keep track of them so they go to Laval to watch them play,” he said.
This weekend, the fans in Belleville and Laval will also turn out to see Pittsburgh’s prospects hit the ice as well.
“It’s always good to go up to Canada to play,” said head coach Clark Donatelli. “Some of the guys will be going home and there will be big crowds. With the dads there too, I’m sure the guys are going to be playing with a little jump.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky