Capitals’ mentors trip returns with plenty of new faces and good vibes


ELMONT, N.Y. — The Washington Capitals’ annual mentors trip had already kicked off inside a hotel ballroom on Long Island Friday night when Frank Milano approached Coach Peter Laviolette and introduced himself. They caught up on the Capitals, with whomFrank’s boy Sonny Milano is in his first season playing for Laviolette, and shared memories about the good old days with the New York Islanders, for whom Laviolette had once coached and Frank had held season tickets for years.

The next night, before the Capitals and Islanders met at UBS Arena, Laviolette had a request: Would Frank want to take his place in the dressing room and read the lineup to the players?

Frank strolled into the room wearing his son’s letterman jacket shortly before puck drop. He took out one of his teeth and was handed the lineup from Laviolette.

“All right boys, it’s the Islanders, all right? Let’s do it. Let’s get it. Let’s f—— pound ‘em,” Frank bellowed, and the entire room erupted in cheers. Then he ran down each starter’s name, but saved Sonny’s for last. “Left wing, my son,” he said, pointing to his chest with pride. “Son-Man, Sonny Milano!” The players clapped as Frank let out a roar, and he was still clutching the lineup card tight in his hands afterward as he joined the other mentors in a suite to watch the game.

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The group came from all corners of the world to restart a tradition that had not been held in over three years, reflecting on just how much had changed in that time. There were the fathers and brothers of veterans who had bonded on this trip for years, and loved ones who filled in to support players whose dads had passed away or couldn’t make the trip.

They all welcomed fathers of players who had recently joined the franchise, like Milano, a native New Yorker; Martin Fehervary, whose dad traveled from Slovakia to the United States for the first time; Gabriel Carlsson, whose father flew in last minute from Sweden after his son was called up from the minor leagues last week; Rasmus Sandin, whose father, Patric, was making a mentors trip with a second team this season after Rasmus was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this month.

Patric grabbed a Bud Light and grinned as he took his seat in Suite 36 before Saturday night’s game. Weeks earlier, he had booked a flight from his home in Sweden to Toronto to see Rasmus play, only to change the ticket after his son was dealt late last month.

“I couldn’t have imagined this,” he said, looking out over the ice before watching his son play for the Capitals for the first time. He had become close with a group of Maple Leafs’ fathers after that team’s annual trip earlier this year, but making a second such trip with a new team felt surreal, bringing him closer to what his 23-year-old son had been going through over the past weeks. Rasmus knew only a couple players when he arrived, including fellow Swede, Nicklas Backstrom. Patric knew of just one Capitals father on the trip, Backstrom’s father, Anders, but no one else. By puck drop Saturday night, he was still shaking hands and introducing himself.

“This is a tight group,” Patric said. “They have taken care of me so good.”

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On Friday night, as the group came together for dinner for the first time, Laviolette had each of the players stand up at their tables and introduce the loved ones who played such pivotal roles in their rise to the NHL. By the end of the first period on Saturday night, there were first bumps and beer taps in response to the Capitals’ 2-1 lead. One dads pointed at Chris Strome, another newcomer on the trip, and called him by his son’s nickname after center Dylan Strome scored in the first 20 minutes.

“Stromer!” he yelled. “That was frickin’ pretty!” Chris pointed back and laughed before mingling with the rest of the group.

Among them was Keven Wilson, who has been coming on the team’s mentors trip since his son, longtime Capital Tom Wilson, joined the franchise over a decade ago. Kevin doesn’t worry about Tom as much aswhen he was a younger player in the league, he said, but being back on the trip after the pandemic kept it on hold for three years felt like an opportunity to reconnect with old friends while also bringing new parents into the fold.

“All of us have something in common. We’re a team of a different kind,” he said. “We don’t get to go down there and do battle, but we’re all cheering for our kids.”

Once the Capitals finished their 5-1 win, it was Tom Wilson who stood in the dressing room and handed out the fireman’s rope, the prize for the team’s player of the game. “It’s so fun to have the dads here,” Wilson said, before turning to captain Alex Ovechkin, whose father, Mikhail, passed away in February.

“Oh, you know, father’s trip, I think it’s a big win for Papa Ovi,” Wilson said. He then turned to T.J. Oshie, whose father, Tim “Coach” Oshie passed away in 2021. “It was always his f—– favorite weekend, no longer with us. His son had a f—— great game, had a goal for us. Osh!”

Oshie took the rope and decided to give it to the father who had fired them up before the game. Frank Milano had not yet made it to the dressing room, prompting one of the players to yell in jest, “Too banged up!” before the rope was passed to his son, Sonny Milano.

“He’s never been so welcomed on a team,” Frank said of his son. “It’s a lifetime thing. I’ll remember this forever.”

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