Standing on the artificial turf at Pepsi Center, with stitches on the left side of his forehead and a fresh gash on the bridge of his nose, the beating Nick Ossello and the Colorado Mammoth had just suffered seemed to be the last thing on the defenseman’s mind.
“What’s your name?” Ossello asked each of the dozens of young Mammoth fans patiently awaiting his autograph following Colorado’s 18-9 defeat in Game One of the Western Division Finals against the Saskatchewan Rush.
As each would dutifully, if not a bit abashedly reply, Ossello would follow their response with a handshake. “I’m Nick,” he’d say politely. “How can I help you?”
On the field, the former Wheat Ridge High School and Notre Dame star is anything but polite. That was evident in the waning moments of Colorado’s frustrating loss. Ossello was 4-for-14 from the faceoff circle on the night, taking the draw for Colorado over and over in the fourth quarter as the Mammoth had no answer for a Saskatchwan attack that recorded seven unanswered goals and nine in total to run away with an important playoff victory.
Ossello lost his last three faceoffs against Jeremy Thompson, but the 24-year-old refused to go down without a fight. Despite a disheartening final result, Ossello showed the heart of a champion each time he went nose-to-nose with his opponent – even when it became clear a comeback wasn’t going to happen. He was at the center of the scrum when a clean win didn’t happen for either side, and he was dogged in pursuit when his opponent got the best of him. On the field, Ossello is the kind of player any coach would want on his side.
Off the field, he displays the kind of heart any mother would be proud of. His own mother, Lynnea, should blush with pride for the way her son carried himself after Saturday night’s loss.
As each young fan would ask for his autograph – whether on a program, a ball or the jersey right on their back – Ossello would wait patiently until they used that all-important magic word.
If a child was too star-struck to remember their “please” and “thank you,” Ossello would kindly nudge them in the right direction and remind them the importance of minding their manners. There was no condescension to his tone; Ossello was a genuine as his smile suggested, and it takes a special kind of person to smile after suffering such a heart-wrenching loss.
At the end of one quarter Colorado and Saskatchewan were knotted at two goals apiece. At halftime, the score was tied at five. And at the end of three the Mammoth trailed by only a goal. Then came a Rush onslaught that saw former Mammoth forward Adam Jones tally four of Saskatchewan’s nine goals in the quarter for a runaway victory.
Colorado now faces the daunting task of going to SaskTel Centre needing a victory to force a 10-minute tiebreaker game to decide who moves on to the NLL Championship. It will be no small task. Saskatchewan defeated Colorado 8-7 and 12-11 (OT) in their previous two encounters there this season.
“We’ll see you in a couple of weeks, right?” Ossello would ask each young fan, his optimism suggesting that Colorado will no doubt go to Saskatoon and win those two games and earn a spot in the Championship.
“And what are you going to do tomorrow?” he asked, concluding many conversations. “That’s right,” he said smiling. “Be good to Mom!”
The moms, standing dutifully behind their kids, smiled, knowing that wherever she was, Nick’s own mom would be incredibly proud.
Featured Image Credit: Colorado Mammoth, Twitter