- Nick Cousins usually calls his parents back in Belleville, Ontario, after every Phantoms game.
Saturday night was different. It ended with his mother, Anne, in tears.
Cousins, 21, was recalled by the Flyers after Saturday night's Phantoms win in Bridgeport, Conn., able to break the news in his postgame chat.
"We usually talk about the game and then it's done, but I called them and they were more excited than I was," Cousins said. "It was a bit of a surprise. There's some good players down there. [Jason] Akeson has been up before, [Petr] Straka was just up, so was [Scott] Laughton. Other than surprised, I'm excited for the opportunity."
Cousins' parents, Brian and Anne, made the 2 1/2-hour trek to Ottawa for last night's game, but they'll have to wait to see their son make his NHL debut. After playing two games in two nights to start the weekend, plus a frazzling route to Ottawa, Cousins was the Flyers' extra forward last night against the Senators.
Craig Berube kept his lineup the same as Saturday's 7-2 thrashing of Detroit. Cousins did travel with the Flyers to Vancouver, where they play tomorrow night, making his debut possible later this week as the Flyers traverse Western Canada.
No player in the AHL has been hotter than Cousins since Jan. 2. He jumped to fifth in league scoring with another two points on Saturday night, giving him 55 in 60 games, already matching the second-best Phantoms offensive output in a season since 2010.
He practically forced the Flyers to take a look at him over the likes of Laughton, Akeson and Straka. Akeson, 24, played all seven Stanley Cup playoff games for the Flyers last season and broke training camp with the team in October. Laughton, 20, was sent back to the Phantoms 1 month ago for more development after a 31-game run with the Flyers.
After a relatively slow start to the season with 17 points in 31 games, Cousins has collected 38 points - including 14 goals - in his last 29 games with the Phantoms.
In perspective, he has nine more points in the first 6 weeks of 2015 than he did in all 74 games last season as a rookie. He credited his linemates, Akeson and Andrew Gordon, for the boost.
"I think just confidence," Cousins responded, when asked what has made the difference. "When I'm confident with the puck, I know I can make plays."
Cousins is a crafty, 5-10 center best known for his agitation factor. He has the very unique ability to dig under an opponent's skin - not unlike the way Matthew Barnaby used to torment the Flyers in the 1990s.
The Flyers' third-round pick in 2011 (68th overall) could always score. He posted 291 points in 264 OHL games with Sault Ste. Marie. The reason he was passed over by Canada's world junior entry and wasn't first on the Flyers' list for call-ups is his defensive awareness.
His game and personality have matured in the last few seasons, especially starting under former NHLer Sheldon Keefe with the Soo Greyhounds in the second half of the 2012-13 season.
"I've been trying to play a little smarter - on that edge, but not over the edge," Cousins said. "I've been trying to stay disciplined, too, as well. I think I've matured as a player coming from junior. I think I've come a long way defensively and in my own end. That's basically what I'm trying to work on each day, is to become a more complete hockey player, and I think I've done a good job of that so far this year."
The big question - at least for this week - will be whether Berube can find room for him in the lineup. The Flyers are overloaded at center, with two natural centers (Brayden Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier) already playing out of position.
Cousins hasn't played wing since 2010-11, when he flirted with a change for about a dozen games before moving back, but that won't be a sticking point. He's just happy to be in the mix.
"I'll play wherever they put me," Cousins said. "Wherever they feel comfortable playing me is where I'll play."
The Flyers suddenly had an opening for Cousins as an extra forward after the team announced on Saturday that R.J. Umberger will undergo surgery on Wednesday. Umberger, 32, will have a torn labrum, torn abdominal muscle and cam lesions in his hip repaired by Dr. William Meyers at the Navy Yard.
Umberger will need approximately 10 weeks to recover, ending his season. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall revealed Umberger arrived from Columbus via last summer's trade with those cam lesions as a known factor.
So, after playing through 67 largely unproductive games, why did Umberger wait until he was a "healthy" scratch on Tuesday to speak up? He netted just nine goals and six assists for 15 points.
"He probably should've come to us a little bit earlier, but I give him credit that he didn't," Hextall said. "R.J. is not happy with his year. We're not happy with his year. But that's life. He was in some pain, in some discomfort, and he had physical deficiencies that were hurting his game. It's kind of hard to be mad at a guy when you know what he was going through."
Umberger said he wouldn't use injuries as an excuse. He is at least the second player, coupled with Matt Read's 2-month high ankle sprain, to play through a painful injury - but it doesn't totally explain his lack of production. His game was already on a severe downslope last season.