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Rookie Colin Felix hopes to carry on his late father’s legacy with the Phantoms

Colin Felix, whose father Chris "Cat" Felix served as the Phantoms' head trainer from 1996-2004, will participate this week at the Flyers' rookie camp in Voorhees.

Mark Greig joined the Phantoms in 1998 when he was 29, older than most of the other players on the AHL’s team roster. When the winger walked into the team’s training room for treatments — Greig admits he was “a little bit demanding” — longtime Phantoms head athletic trainer Chris “Cat” Felix regularly greeted him with a quadriceps stretch and a comedy routine.

Oh, here he comes again! What can I do for you? Felix dealt more playful verbal jabs than the physical ones traded on the ice at the Spectrum that often caused the cuts and bumps he treated. His training room became a watering hole for his team, his booming laugh a magnet to injured and healthy players alike. Greig recalled one instance when head coach Bill Barber chastised the team because there were 15 players in the training room at once.

» READ MORE: Flyers rookie camp to open Thursday with Tyson Foerster, Noah Cates headlining the roster

“You would migrate to his room because that’s where the fun was,” Greig said. “That’s where the laughter was, the storytelling, the jokes. He kind of commanded the stage at times, and that positivity, that fun nature was a little bit infectious, and you gravitated to it.”

From 1996-2004, Felix kept the Phantoms healthy in body and in spirit, winning a Calder Cup along the way in 1998. But the voice that once commanded the room went quiet in 2017 when Felix died of lung cancer at age 47.

Although he can no longer be heard, Felix’s presence still infiltrates the sitting room of a house in Marmora, a town west of Ocean City, N.J. His vast collection of signed sports memorabilia, kept by his widow, Kim Felix Monteleone, and his sons Colin and Colby, plasters the light gray walls in the sun-soaked room of their home. The display features enough Phantoms and Flyers pucks, sticks, and gloves to outfit a team.

Most of those relics were Felix’s possessions. One pair of Phantoms tickets, however, did not belong to him.

In front of a signed photo of Danny Brière’s penalty shot from the 2012 Winter Classic and a 2001 Phantoms holiday puck perched on a bookcase shelf sit two tickets to the Phantoms vs. Cleveland Monsters game from April 27. That game marked Colin’s first with the Phantoms after he signed with them last spring.

Colin’s hockey journey from the Pennsauken-based Team Comcast 14U youth team to the University of Massachusetts had led him back to the team that Chris worked for and loved. As the 23-year-old defenseman looks forward to the adventure to come, starting with Flyers rookie camp on Thursday, he is building a new connection with his late father that is rooted in the organization.

“I can kind of feel what he lived, even though I can’t hear some of the stories from him all the time,” Colin said.

‘My whole life revolved around hockey’

Three days after Kim gave birth to Colin on Jan. 7, 1999, she placed Colin in a baby carrier, draped a blanket over him, and brought him to the Spectrum for his first Phantoms game.

“My mom was horrified,” Kim said with a laugh. “She was horrified that he was going to get germs from everybody.”

But for the Felix family, the Spectrum was an extension of their household. Colin grew up in every corner of the arena, from playing mini sticks with players’ children in the wives’ room to visiting the training room with his father.

The Felix family even housed former Phantoms captain John Slaney early in his career with the team. Colin still wears No. 26 because of Slaney.

“My whole life revolved around hockey from the time I was little,” Colin said. “That was what my brother wanted to do. That was what I wanted to do with my dad.”

Colin started walking and shortly thereafter, his parents put him in skates at age 2. They laced them up tight and put tape on the bottom of the blades. Colin would wobble around the carpet in their Sewell home so, as Chris put it, he could strengthen his ankles for when he hit the ice.

Chris and Kim took Colin to skate at nearby Hollydell Ice Arena, the Phantoms’ former practice facility, when he grew older. As Colin clung to the boards, Chris would camp out by the door and Kim would stand on the bench. They each offered him Skittles, encouraging Colin to skate around the perimeter of the rink.

“Eventually, I learned it was quicker just to skate across rather than holding on to the wall,” Colin said.

Colin played for Team Comcast under former Flyer Derian Hatcher for three years alongside the children of other members of the Flyers organization, including Brière’s son, Carson, Kimmo Timonen’s son, Samuel, and Kjell Samuelsson’s son, Mattias. When Chris sat in the stands to watch, he made his presence known.

“I like to sit and just watch it, but Chris is the loud parent, and it’s not like obnoxious or anything,” the elder Samuelsson said. “He’s just a loud person. It’s almost like you say, ‘Come on, Cat. Sit down.’ But he was always loud. And it was not only to Colin. He was not cheering on [just] him. It was all of the kids.”

Colby, Colin’s younger brother by three years, received Chris’ gregarious, outgoing personality. He also took to baseball, the sport that Chris played at Division II Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.

Colin inherited a big heart and a sensitive side from his father and a work ethic from his mother, a schoolteacher in Audubon. Growing up around the Phantoms, Colin absorbed the habits of the older players and became a miniature professional. It was evident early on to Brière that Colin had the makings of a leader.

“That’s probably part of being around the hockey rink with his dad,” Brière said. “He knew the right thing to do, how to behave going into a game, how to behave during a game. For him, there are no friends on the other side. He already had that mentality. You could tell it was just natural.”

‘We didn’t want this to change them’

Once Colin hit his ceiling in the local youth hockey scene, he moved on to St. George’s School in Middletown, R.I. The five-plus-hour drive to St. George’s was an easy one to make for Chris and Kim, who both loved the beach and watching their son play hockey.

At the end of Colin’s junior year, Chris noticed that his throat felt raspy and he was losing his voice. When he went to the doctor, he learned that he had cancer, a diagnosis that Kim called “shocking.” After all, Chris never smoked and wasn’t much of a drinker.

Kim saw it as her responsibility to take care of Chris and to keep their children aware of what they needed to know regarding his health.

“We wanted them to still function normally in their regular lives,” Kim said. “We didn’t want this to change them, their goals, who they are, what they were planning on doing.”

Colin continued his hockey pursuits in Wisconsin with the Janesville Jets of the North American Hockey League. At the same time, Chris went through chemotherapy and radiation, but his health worsened over the course of the year. At that point, Chris and Kim sold their house and moved to 21st Street in Ocean City.

Chris spent many peaceful afternoons sitting on the boardwalk on 21st Street, reflecting.

“We did a lot of talking over those last few months about his life,” Kim said. “And I think that’s where many of the conversations came in about, ‘When I die, who do you think would come? What kind of impact did I make on people that would show up at my funeral?’”

When Chris died on March 27, 2017, friends from every chapter of his life came to celebrate his legacy. Former Phantoms goalie Neil Little was one of the people who delivered a eulogy, telling stories to “Cat” in minute detail just as Chris once told stories to the players in his training room.

On that day, members of the Flyers organization showed up for the man who had shown up for them every day over the course of eight years.

“Obviously, lives move on,” Colin said. “And for those guys to remember a big part of his life and something that he was really proud of, that means a lot.”

‘I’m going to play for the Phantoms’

In 2018, Colin began his collegiate career at UMass. He played all 41 games as a freshman and was invited to Flyers development camp in 2019 as an undrafted player.

Colin won a national title with the Minutemen in 2021 and became a part of their leadership group the following season before turning pro. A few teams expressed interest in Colin, but it was obvious which one was the best fit.

“I just remember calling my mom,” Colin said. “It was pretty emotional because, honestly, it was the first jersey I ever put on when I was younger because of my dad. I just remember saying, ‘I’m going to play for the Phantoms, hopefully.’ … I know there’s a lot of work to do still, but it’s rewarding.”

While commuting an hour each way from Marmora to Voorhees, Colin spent the summer working out at the Flyers Training Center. He has already seen plenty of familiar faces, including Samuelsson, who calls him “Kitty” after the late “Cat.”

Chris’ memory lives on in Colin’s life through hockey, the sport that bonded them through long car rides to youth tournaments and on late nights at the Spectrum. Colin may not boast his father’s powerful voice, but he’s confident he can command attention on the ice with his physical style of play.

“Before, he was on the sidelines and watching it, watching his dad work and going on the bench occasionally with him and sitting on his lap,” Kim said. “Now, he’ll be on the bench for himself and be there for real. Probably with his dad sitting on his shoulder, watching him, encouraging him, and pushing him along.”