Nicholas Wynne, age 7, with a souvenir Carey Price autographed puck, standing in his Toronto bedroom which is a shrine to Price and the Canadiens. The youngster received the puck from Price himself following the Habs’ Jan. 28, 2014 game at the Bell Centre.
Photograph by: Martin Wynne
MONTREAL — How was Carey Price not going to see the little guy?
The youngster was standing on the ledge of the other side of the glass beside the visitors’ Bell Centre bench, his face practically pressed to the pane, arms stretched over his head as the Canadiens goalie stepped out onto ice for his first-star curtain call and ceremonial puck-toss to fans.
The boy was wearing a Habs jersey, not an uncommon sight.
But he was also wearing a straw cowboy hat with a big Canadiens logo, a lid that was all of one period old. Surely that would be a magnet for Cowboy Carey, a veteran of the dusty summertime rodeo rings in his native B.C.
Indeed, the hat immediately caught Price’s eye as he returned to the rink. It took two tries, but he did get an autographed puck into the hands of Nicholas Wynne, age 7, who suggests his life has pretty much been changed forever by the experience.
Nick’s story is delightful in many ways, beginning with the fact that he lives in Mississauga, Ont., in the heart of Leafs Nation, and is a dyed-in-the-wool Canadiens fan, no matter the heckling he takes from his school friends and minor-hockey teammates.
He’s a goalie on the novice Credit Valley Wolves of the Mississauga Hockey League, his first year full-time in nets after a summertime of practice, study and taking lessons.
Of course, he wears Price’s No. 31. Of course, his new pads are the bleu-blanc-rouge of the Canadiens, no matter than his gloves are black and white.
That straw hat? It found Nick’s head after the second period of that Bell Centre game. It was available only to fans who signed up on the arena concourse for a credit card, and Martin Wynne, Nick’s dad, now has a card he doesn’t need.
But that hat proved to be a beacon, drawing Price straight to Nick, an awestruck young fan who couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw his hero stop within feet of him, flipping a puck to him over the glass.
Problem was, the signed puck, one of three Price would toss to fans, wound up in the hands of a man behind Nick, who gave the souvenir to his boy. Price paused, pointed directly at his primary target and tried again; this time, Nick’s grasp was sure.
The youngster was attending his second-ever Canadiens game in Montreal last week, a 36-save 3-0 shutout for Price over the Carolina Hurricanes, father and son having flown in expressly for it a few hours earlier from Toronto.
Nick has been a Canadiens fan for a few years, Martin Wynne says, since a business trip for wife and mom Ritu detoured the family, including older sister Natasha, to the Canadiens’ Hall of Fame and museum at the Bell Centre.
“Nick came out of the museum, stood under the display of the team’s Hall of Famers, and said, ‘Dad, I’m a Montreal fan,’ ” Martin recalls. “I said, ‘Buddy, how can you be? You live in Toronto,’ and he just said, ‘I don’t care.’
“Since that day, he’s been diehard. Anything he’s wanted, it’s been Canadiens colours: jerseys, hockey socks … it’s unbelievable. He takes huge ribbing from his friends for being a Habs fan but he gives it right back.”
Martin and Nick scheduled a trip to Montreal a few days earlier to see the Washington Capitals but a weekend tournament for the boy changed their plans. Not wanting to risk bad weather on the roads, they flew in the Tuesday afternoon of the Carolina game, returning to Toronto the next day for Nick’s game Wednesday night.
Their seats were against the glass beside the Hurricanes bench, Nick thunderstruck by the close-up view of the action. His dad had seen at Air Canada Centre games in Toronto that the kids standing the best chance of snagging a souvenir were those who were noticed.
Price was named first star, headed out for a bow, and Nick, wearing his spiffy new hat, figured the best way to achieve that was to stand up against the glass, safely propped up by his dad.
“Carey came right over, it was amazing,” Martin said. “Nick was in awe — his hero was right in front of him.”
When the first puck went a little long, Price took careful aim and launched another, this time finding his target.
“Yeah, I saw the little guy right away,” Price told me after the game when I asked him whether the cowboy hat was a lure. “When I missed him with the first puck, I flipped him another one.”
Father and son returned to their hotel, where Nick grabbed the night-table notepad and scribbled down the date.
“I asked him what that was about,” Martin said, “and Nick said, ‘It’s the best day of my life.’ ”
All seven years of it.
I tweeted that night that, after his first try had gone astray, it was nice that Price had gotten a puck to the “little buckaroo” whose identity was then unknown to me.
Not long afterward, Nick’s sister, Natasha, tweeted: “My brother got a puck from his idol (and the first star) tonight. @CP0031 made it the best day of his life,” adding the hashtag #cowboyhat The following day, Martin and Ritu tweeted a photo of Nick holding his signed puck and we then connected, the boy’s parents sending along more photos of him in his bedroom, a shrine to the Canadiens and Price, with his cherished puck.
That Getty Images photographer François Lacasse had captured the once-in-a-lifetime Bell Centre moment iced the cake, Nick standing against the glass, eyes wide, Price about to flip him a puck as both are bathed in an arena spotlight.
“Carey Price has changed Nick’s life,” Martin said, Canadiens players probably unaware how this simple post-game ritual impacts their young, star-struck fans.
“If it’s possible, Nick is an even bigger fan of Carey now.”
Nick has the puck in his bedroom, among his Price display, a pretty cool piece of show-and-tell. On Wednesday, he didn’t have many words to express his joy; not many 7-year-olds would.
But he did know how he felt when six ounces of vulcanized rubber landed in his hands at the Bell Centre:
“I felt like a lucky boy,” he said.
And he did ask to have a message passed along to the man who got him this priceless souvenir:
“Tell Carey I wish him good luck at the Olympics!”
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