And while the holiday won’t be spent in the usual fashion over rounds of golf, family gatherings and barbecues, for players and staff of both teams in the Final, the spirit of the day intertwines endlessly with the once-in-a-lifetime experience of competing for the Stanley Cup.
For many players, their families are in town from all over the world to watch them compete for the coveted Cup in the highest stage of professional hockey and in some of the most meaningful games of their respective careers. This postseason run to the Final has afforded a surplus of opportunities for players to see their families and create new memories with those, like their fathers, who played such a pivotal role in their hockey careers.
During the Western Conference Final, Avalanche netminder Pavel Francouz‘s father traveled to Colorado town from the Czech Republic. Francouz – who took over for Darcy Kuemper following the second period of Game 1 due to injury and backstopped the Avalanche to complete the eventual four-game sweep and advance to the franchise’s first Final appearance since 2001 – allowed for a special memory for the father and son duo.
Francouz’s father drove from Denver to Edmonton to watch his son play. Following the dramatic series clinching Game 4, which ended in a thrilling 6-5 OT win, Francouz took his father to one of his favorite Czech restaurants located in the Canadian city. The restaurant stayed open past its usual hours for the father and son to dine and enjoy a homestyle meal.
After arriving in Colorado as a Trade Deadline acquisition from the Anaheim Ducks back in April, fate would inevitably unfold for the 30-year-old blueliner to go head-to-head against his father Dave, who played 1,103 NHL games and is an interim assistant coach for Edmonton, in the Western Conference Final which became a family affair.
Throughout the first two rounds of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the possibility of facing his father in the postseason was brought up to Josh on numerous occasions by the media. And ahead of the series clinching Game 6 against St. Louis in the Second Round, he shared a text he had received from his dad prior to the game.
“‘Go win this game so I can come see my granddaughter,'” Manson recalled the text with visible emotion. “That’s always what it’s been all about for us, family first.”
During the handshake line following the eventual Game 4 sweep over the Oilers in the WCF, Josh and Dave shared a touching embrace.
And while Dave’s schedule has shifted to offseason prep, there’s still hockey to be watched as his son competes in the Final and already came up with a solid Father’s Day present by scoring the second strike in Colorado’s eventual clinical 7-0 shutout win in Game 2 over Tampa Bay on Saturday night and on the eve of Father’s Day.
“He was obviously such a big part of my career,” Josh said. “Hockey is something that’s been part of my life as long as I can remember because of him. But he’s always been my number one supporter and my dad first and foremost before anything hockey related.”
For Artturi Lehkonen – and like Manson – this postseason run has crossed his paths with his father, Ismo, who is covering the Final for Finland’s YLE television network, in their respective professional settings.
This year marks the second-straight Stanley Cup Final appearance – both against the Lightning – for Artturi, who was also a Trade Deadline acquisition by the Avalanche. Lehkonen arrived in Colorado in April after being traded from the Montreal Canadiens, where the 26-year-old winger began his NHL career back in 2016.
Due to COVID restrictions and a 10-day quarantine in Quebec last year, Ismo was notable to watch Artturi in the Final against Tampa Bay, who defeated the Canadiens in five games to claim its second-straight Stanley Cup.
So this year, is extra special as Ismo is covering his third Stanley Cup Final as an on-camera analyst, while watching his son in person. And while there’s an obvious conflict-of-interest for him, he hasn’t denied his favoritism towards the Avalanche nor the chance to watch Artturi – the middle of his five children – hopefully hoist the Cup this June.
“Everyone in Finland expects that I’m half and half, but they started to realize of course that I’m on the Colorado wagon,” Ismo said. “I try to tell them how Tampa is doing and how Colorado is doing. Everybody knows that I like the system of how both teams play. Tampa’s system is so good. It’s defensive and they can change their game in the middle of the game. I respect that a lot. Then, I really like how Colorado is playing and using their speed and skill, but staying really disciplined. I love that type of hockey.”
And while Ismo has an abundance of knowledge himself regarding the sport, after playing professionally in Liiga – the top tier of Finnish hockey – from 1979-86 and coaching in Liiga for 27 years, his dynamic with Artturi rarely touches on their shared passion. If anything the duo shares more conversations about Arsenal FC, as they are both avid fans of the English Premier League club.
“I always call my mom before the games,” Lehkonen said – which Ismo made a point to note that all Finnish boys are ‘momma’s boys’. “Sometimes my dad is home so he’ll join and we chat a little about hockey, but we don’t really talk about hockey too much. It’s more what’s going on over there and what’s going on over here.
“We got dinner before the series,” Lehkonen continued. “But he does his own thing and I do my own thing.”
For Ismo, who coached Artturi in hockey at the youth level along with Mikko Rantanen – who grew up in Nousiainen, Finland, a town just nearby from where the Lehkonen’s reside – it’s special to watch his son compete at the highest stage with his childhood pal and fellow countryman. Especially given the success both Artturi and Rantanen have had to help the Avalanche reach the Final, which was clinched by an overtime goal in the WCF from Artturi in Game 4 against Edmonton.
“Back in those days, if I had told those boys that when you’re 25 and 26, you’ll play on the same NHL team and be battling for the Stanley Cup they would have said, ‘You’re crazy!'” Ismo said.
“But in our family, we have that type of history that it’s all about winning,” Ismo continued. “It doesn’t matter who scored. It’s not a cliche. We’re always talking about, if you’re losing the game and you want to find the culprit, look in the mirror you will always find that. Never try to find excuses for someone else, just look in the mirror. There’s no halfway; it’s winning and misery. Two choices, pick one.”
Despite Father’s Day falling this year in between Games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final and a travel day to Tampa for the Avalanche, the berth to the Final alone has afforded players and staff of the team like Francouz, Manson and Lehkonen with one- of-a-kind experiences to share with their fathers for years to come.