During the pregame warmup before last Wednesday night's Phantoms game, my fellow goalie-junkie Phantoms fan, whom I dubbed "K" in my post about Maxime Ouellet and Neil Little, came over when she saw Mark and me arrive.
"Nick is down there", she said, and pointed into the bench area. Now, I'd met Neil's son about five years ago, back when he was still small. He comes in to visit Neil during the Christmas holidays -- I've seen him, without having the opportunity to speak to him, the past few years, too.
Well, my having seen him in prior years was doing me no earthly good in IDing him now. All I saw were the backs of a bunch of guys' heads, and the only people among them that I recognized were our regular equipment guys.
I finally asked K (while keeping my eyes trained on the people on the bench), "What color is he wearing?"
"Keep looking. You'll see him as soon as he turns around".
On cue, Nick did turn and face someone behind him. That's when I realized that he's as tall as some of the grown men who work behind our bench -- culture shock! Man, what a growth spurt he's had in a year! I also was reminded that this kid is the absolute IMAGE of his father. I blurted out, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" on seeing the resemblance between Nick and his dad, much to K's amusement.
I should email K the image I scanned of Neil, from a midget AA tournament he took part in when he was 17. I got the program on eBay a few weeks ago, and there's a shot of Neil with his team, the Medicine Hat Cablevision Tigers. (Their other goaltender is Chris Osgood, BTW -- they're still good friends to this day.) Because the resemblance between the then-17-year-old Neil and his now-14-year-old son is even more striking.
It was nice to see that Neil actually got the start on Wednesday, too. He's had nearly all road games so far this year, and I'm guessing that he got the nod at least in part because of Nick's presence. To make a long story very short, Neil was the only Phantom who came to play. The rest of the team was absolutely flat, and the only reason we lost 2-1 in overtime is because Neil stood on his ear to keep us in the game. Frankly, other than Neil, the team didn't even deserve the point we got for an overtime loss. As Al phrased it at the end of the game, "Little stole them a point". He was named the second star of the game, but it seemed to me he was WAY reluctant to even skate out for the acknowledgement. The guys who are stars of the game get a T-shirt to throw into the crowd, but he tossed it to the kids who sit next to the tunnel before he even went out on the ice to get acknowledged. Fans were calling compliments into the tunnel from the time he got stopped on his way back to the locker room, but I wonder if he heard any of them. But IMO, the star was well-deserved. Anyone who stops 46 out of 48 shots on goal, with NO help in front of him for the first 40 minutes of the game, deserves one of the stars of the game in my book.
And if that's how he's going to play when Nick is in the house, I think we should ask that lad to move to Philly and attend ALL our games, home and away. ;o)