When Michael Del Zotto was set to head back to New York and rejoin his Rangers teammates during the middle of the Eastern Conference Finals a few weeks ago following his grandmother's funeral in Ontario, his father sensed correctly what his son needed to hear.
"The last thing my Dad said to me before I left was that no matter what happens we are really proud of you, so just go and have fun," recounted Del Zotto on the eve of Fathers Day. "That's something I will never ever forget. Dealing with my grandma's passing and playing Games Four and Five was just really, really tough for me, and then to have my Dad say that just helped me be mentally stable again. It reminded me that my family, and my Dad, were there to support me every step of the way."
Supporting his son is something that comes naturally for Steve Del Zotto. He has been a rock for young Michael to lean on throughout his 21 years, but especially in the up-and-down first three years of his profesisonal hockey career with the Rangers.
When Michael Del Zotto was a 19 year-old making his way as a rookie in the NHL, and learning to live on his own in the ever-daunting New York City, Steve was there for his boy. And when Michael struggled the following season, eventually being sent down to the minors for the first time in his career, Steve provided the "pat on the back and the tough love" his son required. Then this past season as things again were on the upswing for Michael, his dad remained a constant, in particular when his son had to deal with the loss of his beloved grandmother.
"Being 19, still pretty much a kid, and going from a town of 20,000 to a city with who knows how many was a pretty difficult change, so to have him there that first year to talk to every day and to provide a helping hand was big for me," recalled Del Zotto. "And that second year where I was struggling quite a bit, I turned to him a little bit more. The biggest thing is he always believed in me and he never doubted what I could do. I think that's what helped me out so much."
23 year-old Ryan McDonagh can easily relate to much of what Del Zotto has to say because McDonagh's father, Sean (who is pictured with Ryan's younger brother at The Garden), also was there to offer long-distanace support as needed when The Mac Truck was first trying to make his way as a pro two years ago.
"It was tough that first year not to make it at first and get sent to Hartford when I still had a year left in college, and had given that up," explained McDonagh. "My goal was to start in the NHL, and when I found that wouldn't happen I was heartbroken and upset. But my Dad was so upbeat and he told me to try and find a way to have fun with it. There was no use pouting or being upset or not being myself. That's not going to make things better, he told me. It took me three or four weeks to realize what he was saying was true, and I appreciate what he did for me so much."
McDonagh was thrilled when halfway through the 2010-11 season he not only was called up by the Rangers to the NHL, but his mother and father were there by his side on a visit from Minnesota when he received the actual phone call telling him he was on his way up to the big club.
"It was very appropriate that they were there for that," said McDonagh.
The two young defensemen will both be spending Fathers Day this year with their respective families, making sure their Dads know how much they are appreciated.
McDonagh and his two brothers will make sure to treat Dad right, while Del Zotto and his brother, David, will follow a Fathers Day tradition back home.
"It's not really a ritual, but we'll have a barbeque and then do some things like go to the racetrack," said Del Zotto. "It's tough because every year me and my brother try to get him gifts, and 75% of the time he's returning them! He's a tough guy to shop for, so it's most important to just spend the time together."
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