WILKES-BARRE — When Roger Haggerty boarded the bus after Thursday’s practice to travel with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to Canada, it reminded him of his days as a pro baseball player.
Haggerty played with the Boston Red Sox organization during the 1980s and still recalls the uncomfortable Class A and AA bus rides that are synonymous with minor league baseball.
This bus trip, however, is a bit different.
Haggerty was one of several fathers to attend Thursday’s practice at the Toyota Sportsplex before traveling with the team as they play in Belleville, Ontario and Laval, Quebec, this weekend. It’s the first time that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has done a ‘Dad’s Trip’ and the experience generated plenty of excitement from players and fathers alike.
For Haggerty, watching his son practice rekindled a rush of memories. The elder Haggerty coached youth hockey for 20 years and always took Ryan to the rink with him when he was a kid.
“You don’t get any more enjoyment than that,” Roger said, adding it will be tough to shake the “coach” persona when he watches his son play this weekend.
“There is a part of me that watches the game as a father and part of me that watches as a coach,” he said. “It’s hard to separate that part of it.”
Still, seeing his son playing pro hockey is something that Haggerty said never gets old. He vividly recalls a moment when his son’s achievement truly hit home. It occurred in 2014 after Ryan left college and played in his first NHL exhibition game as a member of the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
“I remembered when my father would bring me to the Garden and I would bring Ryan, and now I’m sitting there watching him play at Madison Square Garden,” Roger said. “He had two goals and an assist. It was surreal and that’s when it hit me that it’s no longer college hockey.”
Jarred Tinordi’s father, Mark, jumped at the chance to join his son on the trip after he missed a similar opportunity when the younger Tinordi was playing with the Montreal Canadiens.
Mark Tinordi will watch his son play this weekend not with the trained eye of a coach, but as a father who spent more than 11 seasons in the NHL, from 1987 to 1999.
“You watch the game and you kind of know what’s going to happen and you see if he’s in the right spot,” Mark Tinordi said. “But I still just kind of watch and enjoy it.”
While the players are accustomed to playing in front of coaches and scouts throughout their careers, it’s a different feeling when their father’s are in the stands.
Tom Kostopoulos, whose father George will be joining his son when the team arrives in Canada, said his dad came to nearly every one of his games before he turned pro with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 1999. While Kostopoulos had to adjust to pro hockey, he also had to get used to not having his father at the game.
“My first couple years as a pro, after the game I wasn’t sure how I played because he was always there to tell me,” Kostopoulos said. “When he does make it to a game it’s fun. Even though I’m old he still tells me what I’m doing right and wrong.”
Jarrett Burton’s father, Tim, will also meet the team in Canada and watch his son play against Belleville on Friday and Laval on Saturday. It will be a special experience, he said, considering all the work his dad did to help him become a pro hockey player.
“My dad coached me quite a bit at the rink. He would always grab a coffee from Tim Horton’s and be in the stands watching me at 7 a.m. for practice,” Burton said. “It will give me a little bit extra jump knowing he’s in the stands.”
One of the fathers attending Thursday’s practice is a familiar face at the practice rink. Tom McGrath frequently drives from Shavertown to watch his son, Patrick, at practice.
The chance to get to know some of the other fathers is enjoyable, he said, and it will also be different to travel with his son to a game and not do the driving, something he did while Patrick was a kid playing in travel leagues.
“It will be nice to put my feet up and have somebody else behind the wheel,” Tom said. “A trip like this with your son is one of the most special and humbling things you can experience.”
Zach Trotman’s father, Greg, was also among the dad’s to join their son at the rink on Thursday. Trotman did a similar trip with his dad a few years ago when he played for the Boston Bruins and said it makes for a memorable time to share their life as a pro hockey player.
“They did a ton of work for us when we were growing up, so it’s nice for them to be able to sit back, watch and let us take over,” Trotman said. “They sacrificed a lot to get us here, so you want to make them proud.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky