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Short Shifts

Hart gifts Stadium Series jersey to boy who helped him decide on No. 79

Flyers goalie welcomed Connor Parkkila, parents to games in Philadelphia

by Pat Pickens @Pat_Pickens / NHL.com Staff Writer

It all started with some fist bumps.

Back before he was with the Philadelphia Flyers, Carter Hart would get a ceremonial fist bump from a young, autistic fan named Connor Parkkila ahead of each game for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Connor's parents, Will and April, were Silvertips season ticket holders.

Flash forward to this season, when Hart has enjoyed sustained success with the Flyers, yet the goalie hasn't forgotten the fans that were there at the start.

Hart hosted the Parkkila family after two recent starts, and following the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday he presented Connor with a signed, framed Flyers jersey from the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. The Flyers will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the outdoor game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, SN1, TVAS2).

 

[RELATED: Penguins-Flyers rivalry will heat up Stadium Series, Recchi says]

 

"When we walked into the (Flyers dressing) room, Carter said 'It's good to see some familiar faces in the stands,'" Will Parkkila told NHL.com.

The jersey gift was an easy call; the Parkkila family actually helped Hart pick No. 79.

Connor, who turned 8 on Feb. 8, fell in love with Hart during his time with the Silvertips from 2014-18. April and Connor would make to road games when Will worked weekend shifts at Boeing.

When Hart, who wore No. 70 in Everett, was assigned No. 79 at Philadelphia's 2016 development camp, April and Will purchased a No. 79 Flyers jersey with Hart's name on the back for Connor. Hart saw Connor in the stands with the jersey during an Everett preseason game later that year and was inspired him to keep the No. 79 permanently.

"When I came back to Everett, Connor was there waiting for me like he usually did and was yelling at me trying to show me his new jersey," Hart told Philly Voice in August. "He had a Flyers jersey with Hart No. 79 on the back. When I saw that I decided I had to stick with No. 79 because there was a No. 79 out there. ... I couldn't change the jersey number now. I didn't think Connor would have been too happy if I had the wrong jersey with the wrong number on the back."

The gesture stunned the Parkkilas.

"I told Carter 'You were an 18-year-old, I never expected you to keep that number,'" April said. "It would've been fine if he changed his number, but he kept his word to Connor."

The pair has kept in touch through Instagram, with Connor using Will's account to send messages to Hart.

"Carter responds every time," April Parkkila said. "Carter is extremely popular [in Philadelphia] now, and we all love him in Everett, but he's an NHL goalie now. To take that time to respond to an 8-year-old fan in Everett is pretty cool."

The Parkkilas decided they needed to see a game in Philadelphia after Hart was called up on Dec. 17. He proceeded to take the NHL by storm by going 13-6-1 in his first 20 starts.

"Connor doesn't see all [the fanfare]," Will said. "He only sees Carter."

Hart secured them tickets, thanks to a donation from the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, so Connor could again fist bump him as he took the ice. But this time, it was for the Flyers.

The trip was a dream come true for Connor. For that, Hart will always hold special place in the hearts of his parents.

"We want everyone to know he's more than just a great hockey player," Will said of Hart. "He's a fantastic young man and so nice to our kid."

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