The hockey dads hit the road
Other NHL clubs, namely the Wild and Islanders, have had similar father/son road trips this season, and there are always some interesting stories that result. Take the bit about the ailing John Ferguson Sr., the father of the Leafs GM, who was himself the general manager (and briefly the coach) of the Winnipeg Jets when Thomas Steen, the father of current Leaf Alex Steen, played for the team.
In relation to the father festivities, Toronto radio station The Fan 590's Chuck Swirsky had a poignant interview this afternoon with Barry Belak, whose stepson Wade has filled the enforcer's role on various NHL clubs. It's unfortunate there's no audio archive available because it was really a great Q&A — the elder Belak was at times on the verge of tears as he talked about how proud he was of Wade's accomplishments in the NHL.
Barry Belak lives in the small prairie town of North Battleford, Sask., where he works as an agricultural investigator for the provincial government and has established himself as a mainstay in the local minor hockey system. (CBC recently named him one of the top hockey volunteers in the country.) He coached both of his sons, Wade and Graham (who is playing professionally in England after a brief sojourn through various North American leagues), "for as long as he could" — meaning he had to hand off those duties as the Belak boys rose to AAA and major junior hockey.
One thing that really struck me about the interview today was when the elder Belak spoke of his regrets as a hockey parent, as someone who, in retrospect, probably pushed his sons too hard as their coach.
The dynamic between a Canadian hockey dad and his son is a fascinating one, and all the moreso when the son happens to be that one-in-a-million prospect who makes it to the NHL. The funny thing is, listening to Barry Belak on the radio, you get the sense that this regular Joe from North Battleford wouldn't want his son to be anything or anyone else, that his rise to play for the Maple Leafs was the ultimate accomplishment, regardless of his role.
And despite the fact he admitted to being the prototypical hard-assed hockey dad, Barry Belak sounded anything but now that he's had the chance to be with his son and the team, and see up close what Wade's accomplished despite his somewhat marginal talents.
Belak père called the road trip the chance of a lifetime and a dream come true, and you have to believe that's the case for all 20+ hockey dads who have spent time with the team this week. To me, it seems like a worthwhile endeavor, a good bonding experience, and I'm guessing we'll be seeing a lot more of these familial outings in the future.
Just maybe not so close to the push for the postseason.