Pals put fan in tough spot

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

TAMPA -- Richard Valente is feeling slightly torn.

This week, he's in Tampa, staying at the house and driving a car owned by Lightning defenceman Dan Boyle, who's lodged at a local hotel with teammates so as to properly focus on the NHL playoffs.

"I came here to sleep," joked Valente, who pulled himself away from his two young children, including a newborn, and his wife to accept the hospitality offered by Boyle. "I think I'm gonna marry Danny."

Valente had lunch with his good buddy Boyle, a fellow Ottawan, yesterday afternoon. Then, a few hours later, he ate dinner with his best friend, Sens winger Martin Havlat.

Tonight, he'll again know what it's like to be Frantisek Hossa every time his son Marian's Atlanta Thrashers play his son Marcel's New York Rangers.

"Who do you cheer for?" Valente, who sat in Section 129 at the St. Pete Times Forum for Tuesday's 8-4 Ottawa win, asked rhetorically of himself. "Basically, I'm cheering every goal. People around me probably think I'm gambling. They're like, 'what's with this guy?' "

Valente and his brother Robert own Fratelli's, an exceptional Italian restaurant with locations in the Glebe (10 years), Kanata (five years) and Westboro (1 1/2 years).

Maybe you've heard the oldie-but-goldie radio ad featuring Havlat as a waiter.

"Hockey is just a hobby," he tells a customer who then wants to pay his bill. "Did you say Czech?" Havlat and about six or seven other Senators regularly eat at Fratelli's.

Havlat, Boyle and the Valente brothers together owned the Kanata nightclub Karma Lounge before it became Suede. Boyle still owns a piece of the business, along with Sens defenceman Chris Phillips but the Valentes and Havlat are out.

SKATE-BY AFTER GOAL

After Havlat scored Ottawa's first goal of the playoffs last Friday at Scotiabank Place, he purposely skated to the glass in front of the rinkside seat in which Valente was sitting for his celebration. "I knew Richard was in that corner," Havlat said following the game.

"I'm a Sens fan," the 41-year-old Valente says within earshot of Boyle. "Danny knows how I feel.

"(Tampa) is not very deep on defence. Marty is just blowing by guys. It was like a scrimmage, those first three goals (the Senators scored Tuesday).

"I think everybody knows if Ottawa wins (tonight) the series is probably over."

While acknowledging the contributions of mini-Martin St. Louis, Valente says the best two players in the series thus far have been Havlat and Boyle. He makes a good point.

CHAMPS' SORE SPOT

St. Louis has Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards and Vinny Prospal to share the load up front. The Ottawa attack, led by Havlat, made mincemeat of a Bolts blue line that appears to be the biggest sore spot on the defending champs.

Boyle played a team-high 25:40 Tuesday and was just -1. Tampa defenceman Cory Sarich saw 10 fewer minutes of ice time and was -3.

Boyle also scored the nicest Lightning goal of the series in Game 2, skating by Senators as though they were pylons then firing a shot by Ray Emery.

"I taught him that move," Valente said, drawing a chuckle out of Boyle.

Valente met Boyle through former Senator Jason York a few years back. York hosted a charity golf tournament that brought together numerous Ottawa-born and raised NHLers and Valente, as usual, was eager to help out.

Valente, who was surprised to count only three Sens jerseys in the crowd Tuesday, was hoping for this first-round matchup between Ottawa and Tampa. This way he gets to watch two friends play every night, and no matter the outcome he can be happy for one of them.

In a way, it is a little surprising he agreed to stay at Boyle's place, though.

During the 2004 NHL playoffs, Boyle's house burned down.

"The funny thing is I came here for the last game before the (Olympic break in February) against Carolina," Valente said. "I stayed with him then, too, and when I plugged my cellphone in little sparks came from the outlet. I told him, you should have an electrician check that out.

"He's got a phobia about these things now."

The only sparks Valente cares to see again are those of offensive firepower from the Senators.


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