Guess Who’s Coming to Practice, Pt. 2 – The personal side of Nifty

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Of course, meeting Rick Middleton gave a lot for me personally in addition to what I got out of it hockey wise. The love of the games of both hockey and life really brought all of us in the MFHL together and Nifty was no different. It seems he enjoys fun, lighthearted little quips just as much as my father and myself. It first became clear to us that he was just a regular guy from Ontario when he started things out by asking the kids “Alright, any Bruins fans here?” (all hands went up) “So, no Montreal fans then, good.” Most of the players were not very familiar with hockey historical figures such as him, so he told the kids he was with the Bruins from ’76 to ’88 after being drafted by New York. A younger player exclaimed that his mom was a kid then, to which Middleton replied by saying that his was, as well. The fun (key word right there!) continued throughout the session, all the way into our photo shoot which featured a touching moment during which one of the rink’s staff members and approved Zamboni drivers, Steve, was able to get into a couple of shots. One of my teen mentor peers, Evan, said that Steve’s day had been made with that. I responded by saying “Good, you gotta love the ‘rink guy’. Who else will let you in at the start of the night?” Mr. Middleton chuckled and said I was exactly right.

After getting a second copy of Rick’s autograph, I was able to discuss a few small talk subjects with him and towards the end of our conversation, I brought up the subject of one of my earlier articles, Normand Leveille (I reccomend that readers who haven’t checked out that piece go back in the archives and do so). With Nifty being a former teammate of Normy’s, I simply had to ask what potential he saw in him. This was his reply: “I tell ya, he would’ve been a great player. He was both skilled and tough. He was a smaller guy that was built like a brick wall, with about a 3% body fat. He was something else.” My dad’s remark was a simple “He knew.” I didn’t have much else to say at the time because of all the thoughts swirling around the inside of my skull, but now I can say this – “Yeah. If you can learn from anyone, make sure it’s the best.”

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