TAMPA — Mike Angelidis has played just three games, and limited minutes, for the Lightning this season.
But it didn't take long for the 6-foot-1, 212-pound center to make his presence felt; he got in two fights in Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Canadiens. Angelidis, 29, took on Brandon Prust in both bouts, the second coming after the Canadiens wing hit goalie Ben Bishop from behind.
"I wanted to show the guys I'm part of the team," Angelidis said. "You've got to protect your goalie."
That selfless attitude and toughness are what made Angelidis the captain of AHL Syracuse the past three seasons (and of Lightning coach Jon Cooper's AHL Calder Cup championship team in Norfolk in 2011-12). It's also why, when the Lightning lost forwards Ondrej Palat (two to three weeks) and Cedric Paquette (10 to 14 days) to injury last week, Angelidis got his first NHL callup in two years.
"I've watched it for years," Cooper said. "What his blood spells is 'team,' and it's great being able to have guys like that around.''
Angelidis' team-first attitude started at a young age while he worked for his family's ice business. He grew up in Markham, Ontario, also the hometown of Lightning star Steven Stamkos. Angelidis' father, Alex, and Stamkos' father, Chris, have been friends since childhood.
"Small world," Angelidis said.
Alex Angelidis owned Agua Ice, and Mike would often join his brother, Tom, now 31, and mother, Susan, bagging and delivering ice during the summer from age 7 on through hockey offseasons. His pay was about $5 an hour, around minimum wage.
"It was manual labor, lifting heavy bags of ice all day," Angelidis said. "Sometimes you're not getting paid. It's about being with the family."
Undrafted, Angelidis had to battle his way into the league. It took six AHL seasons before Angelidis made his NHL debut, with the Lightning in 2012, and he scored a goal in his first game. He has played in 572 AHL games. Angelidis said he drew inspiration from Crunch teammate J.P. Cote, 32, who went seven years between NHL games before being called up last season.
"It's tough when you're in the AHL a long time to get a shot in the NHL," Angelidis said. "To stay up there is everyone's goal, a childhood dream. I never stopped thinking I'd get a shot. I knew I had to have a good year (in Syracuse)."
That he has. Crunch general manager Julien BriseBois said Angelidis is the AHL MVP, his impact going beyond his statistics (17 goals, 16 assists, 138 penalty minutes in 57 games).
"We're a first-place team (in the Northeast Division), and he's the captain. He's been the heart and soul," BriseBois said. "He's the emotional gauge for our team. Whenever we need to up our game, when we're up against a good opponent or down in a game, he always steps up his game. He's scored big goals, stood up for his teammates, kills penalties, blocks shots. I just don't see what anyone else could want from a player."
BriseBois said Angelidis has been "on the radar" for callups every season since he signed as a free agent with the Lightning in 2010 but it has been just circumstance he hasn't had many; other forwards have been better fits for the roles Tampa Bay needed.
With Paquette (upper body) out at least another week, Angelidis will get a few more NHL games. His callup had interesting timing. Angelidis' wife, Lenna, is scheduled to give birth to their second child, a boy, next week.
"My emotions are all over the place," Angelidis said.
After all, he wants to be loyal to both "teams."