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There are no signs that the hottest goaltender for the hottest team in hockey lives in this nondescript house in this nondescript neighborhood in Toronto. Felix Potvin lives here? Felix the Cat? Cannot be. A school is located across the street, apparently a junior high, and kids walk past in the morning and the late afternoon with their backpacks and conversations, and not one head turns toward the house. Wouldn't all eyes stare if Felix the Cat lived here, everyone looking for a glimpse of the face that inhabits the sports pages of the city's three newspapers, even in the midst of the Toronto Blue Jays' march to another baseball world championship? Nobody knows.
"I like it this way," Felix the Cat says. "I park around back, go through the back door. Not many people see me."
He is in and he is out. He is here and he is gone, moving at different hours than the other residents of the street. There is nothing special about his Jeep Cherokee, nothing special about the modest house at the end of a row of modest houses. He is engaged to be married to Sabrina Tardif, who is pregnant. They will take care of that marriage business when they find a spare day or two. The baby is due in March. There is a real cat in the household, a tapioca tabby named Tommy, and an active seven-month-old Labrador retriever named Thunder. The official language of the house is French.
"Assis, Thunder," Felix the Cat says.
Sometimes Thunder sits. Sometimes Thunder does not sit.
On the walls of the living room, there are no pictures, no memorabilia, no signs of what Potvin does for a living. A large television set is balanced atop a green leather hassock, and a video-game system is balanced atop a VCR, which is balanced atop the balanced television. A large green leather couch matches the green leather hassock. There is not much other furniture in the room. And Felix the Cat? The man who has led the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 9-0 record, the best start in the history of the NHL? The man whose presence has done as much as anything to transform this moribund franchise into the most intriguing outfit in the league? The man who slightly more than a month ago signed a $4 million contract for the next three years? He is 22 years old, and there still is a sprinkling of acne across his forehead and a pleasant shyness in his disposition. He lives here in this starring-out neighborhood in this starting-out life.
"I think the next-door neighbors know who I am," he says. "I'm not sure, but I think they do. I see them stare sometimes."
Everything has happened very, very fast.
"I remember none of the scouts in the NHL liked him at first," says Potvin's agent, Gilles Lupien, the former Montreal Canadien defense-man and enforcer. "The first time he was eligible, no one even drafted him. Three rounds, not one team in the league took a chance. I remember thinking, Am I crazy or are they crazy? Don't they see what I see?"
In 1989, when he was first eligible for the draft, Potvin was seen by the scouts, at best, as a pretty good goalie on a pretty bad team. He was playing for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a thin kid from the streets of Montreal who was watching an awful lot of rubber every night. Sixty shots. Fifty. Sixty-five.