In his rookie season with the Buffalo Sabres, Dave Andreychuk would anxiously skate through warmups.
Then a wide-eyed 19-year-old, Andreychuk would scan the stands for several seconds before finally "getting the signal."
It was his father, Julian, waving from behind the glass. The steel mill worker made the 90-minute drive from Hamilton, Ontario for most of his son's home games.
"I'd see him and know everything would be okay," Andreychuk said. "I was inspired by him."
One staple in Andreychuck's spectacular 23-year NHL career, for which he was honored Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, was the special relationship he had with his father.
From his first goal to his Stanley Cup run with the Lightning in 2004, Andreychuk, 43, called his father after every game.
Whether the gritty left-winger phoned from a bus, an airport or a restaurant, he'd cherish the late-night chats about family, life on the road and current events.
"People probably think it's odd that a 40-year-old man would call his dad every day," Andreychuk said. "But I always did. Those talks meant a lot to me.''
The father and son remembered those talks Tuesday while riding in a bus to the arena with nearly 50 family members and friends from Hamilton.
Said Julian: "It's been one amazing ride."
The passion, Julian said, was always there. When Dave was 3, he'd wear a one-piece brown snowsuit and go to the neighborhood pond, where he'd play for hours. In the evening, he'd return, wet and worn. Julian would find his son sobbing on the stairwell.
"Dave never wanted supper," his father said. "He wanted to go back to the pond and play. I should have known it then."
Andreychuk didn't think he'd be selected in the junior league draft as a teenager. When the call came, he was cleaning cages for his job at a veterinarian hospital.
But after he played his first weekend for Oshawa of the OHL, he called his father that Sunday night with a fitting message:
"I'm staying dad," he said. "I'm staying."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 893-8129.