Yvon's attentiveness, however, never waned, and as Vincent racked up awards for his play and Philippe developed into a hard-nosed defenseman who would go on to play at Clarkson University, Yvon mounted action photos of the boys alongside shots from his playing days. When Vincent was 10 and struggling with a choppy skating style, Yvon enlisted a figure skater who spent the next year working to help lengthen and smooth out his stride.
As good as Vincent was when he left home in 1994 to attend Notre Dame prep school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, there was little indication that he would play in the NHL. Lecavalier, 14, stood a smallish 5'11" and weighed about 155 pounds. Three months into his freshman season he was visited by his parents, who were surprised to see that he had grown two inches and bulked up. He spun defenders to the ice, stickhandled end-to-end and bullied his way to the net at will. A year later he scored 56 goals and added 50 assists in 24 games for Notre Dame. "The minute I saw Vinny play there, I went to the phone and called my brother Sylvain," says Yvon. "I said to him, 'It's done. We're going to the big league.' "
The lightning's 80th game last season was in Montreal. As a rookie, in 1998-99, Lecavalier had played there as a Lightning third-liner and been so nervous that "I couldn't keep the puck on my stick." Now his second season was nearing its end, and he was skating before his family and scores of friends with the C on his chest. Early in the third period, with Tampa Bay trailing 5-0, Lecavalier was hit in his left ankle with a slap shot. "I wanted to take him out," says Ludzik, "but he said, 'Coach, I've got one more shift in me.' I sent him back on, and he took the puck, brought it up-ice and made a perfect pass to set up our only goal. That was the last shift I let him play all year; his ankle was bad. You think that kind of courage makes an impact on his teammates?"
Lecavalier's teammates regard him with the muted awe that elite athletes command from their peers. Tampa Bay players talk of his highlight-reel ability, his bursts of speed and his sleight of stick that make him one of the league's most dangerous scorers. They talk about his conditioning, how he came to training camp carrying a preposterously low 4.1% body fat on his 207-pound frame. They talk of his unheralded toughness and the way he rose to his own defense by pummeling the Washington Capitals' Jeff Halpern last March.
They talk of his humility. Lecavalier drives a new Porsche 911 that gleams like a black pearl in the Florida sun. He loves the car, which he bought after earning $3 million in performance bonuses last season. Yet when he invited an acquaintance to follow him home from this year's training camp, he glanced downward. "I'll be in the, um, black car," he said.
Many on the Lightning's fresh-faced roster ( Tampa Bay is the NHL's youngest team, with an average age of 24.5) regard Lecavalier as a sage. Rookie left wing Brad Richards, 20, who starred alongside Lecavalier in Rimouski, recalls a time last spring when he was playing in juniors and engaged in a harsh contract dispute with the Lightning. Members of the Tampa Bay brass questioned Richards's ability. "Vinny called all the time," Richards says. "He told me to keep believing I was the best player on the ice, not to let contract talk get to me."
"Vinny can settle the team down with a look," says second-year defenseman Paul Mara. "So when he stands up and says we're going to make the playoffs, you believe him."
To prepare for his first full season as captain, Lecavalier spent the summer living in an apartment in downtown Montreal and training daily. In mid-August he began skating with friends at an arena near his boyhood home. "The day he started skating I wanted to go watch him, but I wasn't sure," says Yvon. "I was thinking, He's 20 now and grown up and captain of an NHL team. Maybe he doesn't want his father hanging around."
About then Yvon's phone rang. It was Vincent. "Dad?" he said. "I'm going on the ice in a couple of hours and I wanted you to know. Just in case you wanted to come and watch."