But beyond what he contributed to the Phantoms on the ice, he's also impressed me by his conduct OFF the ice. This is a person who makes a point of recognizing fans who've been supportive, and being friendly in return. (And helpful, too: see this post from my archives.) The fact that he isn't only a good goaltender, he's a downright good PERSON into the bargain, makes it even easier to rank him as a personal favorite of mine.
And that's why the fact that he'll be spending this season in FINLAND is going to be a tough thing to cope with for this fan. It's not only that I'll miss him, which is certainly the case. It's also well-nigh impossible to find information in English about the Blues Espoo, and there's no online translation program (like the one on altavista.com) that can properly handle Finnish-to-English translation. THANK GOD there's a fan from Espoo who has joined the Phantoms mailing list, and who has been kind enough to translate a couple of articles from the Blues site, or I'd have gone bananas by now (and the season hasn't even officially begun yet).
So... what's an avid fan who likes up-to-the-minute information to do? Well, when you're an avid fan who's already been through interpreter training, the answer is obvious. You research the unknown language yourself, to figure out how you can learn at least enough to fumble along and get by.
To that end, my first stop was google.com. My search for information about English speakers learning Finnish brought me to an interesting site in English called Virtual Finland. They have a section of their site devoted to explaining some features of the Finnish language to persons who are interested in learning it. That's where I found this particular gem of information (emphasis added by me):
To compensate for the lack of opposition such as voiced/unvoiced consonants Finnish uses length as a distinctive feature. This means that all eight vowels and most of the consonants can appear long: i.e. marked in writing with two letters or short marked with one letter ( tuuli 'wind' / tuli 'fire'; kukka 'flower' / kuka 'who'). For a learner of Finnish differences of this kind can cause problems both in pronunciation and memorising. Hän tulee means 'He is coming' but Hän tullee is 'He might be coming'. Minä tapaan sinut huomenna means 'I'll see you tomorrow' whereas Minä tapan sinut huomenna 'I'll kill you tomorrow'.
I read that and I had to laugh. "My gosh! What's Neil gotten himself into?" I know enough about the linguistic faux pas that happened to my fellow ASL students and me to be keenly aware of the pitfalls of learning a brand-new language from scratch. Mis-articulating one word, and producing something that actually IS another word, is pretty much guaranteed to happen. All one can do is hope that the unintended word that was uttered is something that will be repeatable in polite company. But if the quote above is an example of what it's like to learn Finnish, Neil might be in for an interesting next-few-months. Oh, dear. ;o)
In any event, the Blues have been taking part in exhibition games. (Their regular season begins in September.) I'm happy to report that Neil's first game with the team resulted in a 3-0 shutout victory. WTG! With performances like that, pretty soon the fans in Espoo will think as highly of him as the Philly fans do. And that'll be a Good Thing.