Sunday, November 23, 2003

Well, I survived this game with what minute amounts of sanity I have still intact. The Phantoms won 3-1, but both goalies were superb. It always makes me glad to see my favorite players do well, and I had the chance to watch TWO of them play a fine game. Life is good. (Of course, I still maintain that I'd have been PERFECTLY fine with a 0-0 tie. Really, I would have. ;o) )

Anyway, after the game, I got a nice reminder of why Neil Little and Maxime Ouellet are my two favorite people in hockey.

When the game ended, I did something I'd only done once before. I went around to the back of the Spectrum, where the players' tunnel is, and where the visiting team's bus loads up. It's a huge ramp with a mega-sized garage door that would allow the bus to back all the way into the building if necessary. That door remains open while the equipment and whatnot are loaded into the bus. Visiting players walk out in order to board the bus; Phantoms players walk out in order to access their cars in the nearby players' section of the parking lot.

I went because I wanted to see Max and introduce myself as the person who was his Secret Phan when he played here. That's something I never got to do at the 2002 Phan Club banquet. Unfortunately, the trade deadline was about two weeks before the banquet, which was when everyone was going to approach their player and introduce themselves. Back then, the closest I came to introducing myself was to snail-mail the final Secret Phan package which I'd intended to deliver at the banquet, along with a letter and a printout of the photo I took with him at the Carnival a few weeks before the trade deadline.

There were a few of us Max fans out there waiting to see him. One fan, whom I'll call "J", and I had gone in on a care package for Max, too -- she went on the shopping run and put together a basket of items that Max had listed as things he likes on his Secret Phan form (such as favorite snacks, a magazine, etc.). Judging from my few experiences at the Spectrum's player tunnel, it's not uncommon for fans to wait for favorite players and give them little tokens or maybe some game pictures they've taken.

It took eons for Max to appear because he must have been catching up with half the people in the Delaware Valley after the game. Plus, according to some other Pirates who came out, he was talking to reporters. (Which reporters those would be, I would LOVE to know, because none of his comments appeared in either of the PHILLY papers this morning. The dearth of local AHL coverage makes me mad... but I digress.)

Eventually, from our vantage point outside the building, we could see Neil and Max inside the Spectrum chatting with a small group of people. We thought they might come out together, but no... Neil came out first. Max stayed behind and kept talking to whoever the people were.

I'm glad one of the other fans in our bunch (whom I'll call "K") is a mite bolder than I am about these things... it would never in a million years have occurred to me to ask Neil to let us go in the players' entrance and pose for pics with him and Max. But *she* did. Neil agreed right away and led the four of us into the building. (Just because it wasn't my idea didn't mean I wasn't willing to go along with it. LOL.)

Hence, I now have something I wished like heck I could have gotten when they both played here. And here it is... :o) Max is on the left, Neil is on the right.

After that, since Max was still talking with people, we fans made our way back out along with Neil. I told him, "Thanks so much for doing that. You're a saint". He just grinned and said, with that fun-to-listen-to Western Canadian accent of his, "Oh, no problem". :o)

We returned to where we'd been standing and waited for Max to come out, so we could give him his care package. FINALLY, Max finished chatting and exited the building. I think he was literally the last guy on the team to leave. (I can guarantee you that he was having trouble finding a seat once he finished getting doted on by fans and got on the bus -- by the time he boarded, all the guys were already set up with their pillows and other belongings. Max kept walking up and down the aisle... lol, poor baby goalie.)

We weren't the only fans who wanted to fuss over him, either, so we waited our turn. J gave him the care package and the card, to his thanks. It looked to me like he appreciated it a lot. :o) Then I approached him and said "I just wanted to say hi. My name's Donna, and I was your Secret Phan when you were here".

When he answered, "I know", I nearly fell over with surprise.

"You KNOW? How do you know?"

"You sent me a picture".

I was momentarily at a loss. I sent him a... what? When on earth...? Then I realized he was referring to the printout of the pic from the Carnival. I also realized that I sent it over a year and a half ago! Holy COW, what a memory!

At least I finally got to OFFICIALLY introduce myself, plus pay a few compliments for his recent success and tell him to keep up the great work into the bargain. Now that's what I call a productive night.

But as I wrote earlier, I also got a few concrete reminders of why these two guys are my favorite people in hockey... the one who bends a few security rules for his fans, and the one who remembers his fans from a photo he got two seasons ago. Talk about returning loyalty for loyalty! No wonder I'm a goalie junkie. :o)

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