Sometime before the 2012 baseball season ends I need to figure out a way to stop leaving Citizen’s Bank Park like this. It was another long walk back to the car Monday Night, this time in a seasonable windchill, but the stakes were nothing like those of last October. This was a hockey game that would have been nice to win, but was more about the fan experience. The Flyers blew the game, cemented a goalie controversy, and disappointed about 95% of the 46,000 on-hand, but I’m sure most of the fans were over it by the time they regained feeling in their toes. Despite the result, the game was something to see, a spirited crowd and the novelty of the whole event guaranteed that. Some highlights…
I saw plenty of fake Winter Classic jerseys. I didn’t know there was a black market in jersey production until the whole Winter Classic speculation craze. Then, people started buying knockoffs on a whim and a prayer. The prayers went unanswered. That didn’t stop people from suiting up. God bless them.
A guy two rows in front of me was in a Zach Parise Devils jersey. Why? I don’t really understand wearing jerseys, but I suppose I get the appeal of feeling part of a color coordinated mob. What I don’t understand is wearing a jersey that has nothing to do with the game you are attending. Devils fan? Great. Leave the jersey at home.
I heard a lion’s share of profanity. Definitely more than a Phillies game, but probably not as much as an Eagles game. My personal favorite line of the day? In the first period, the Rangers were holding the puck behind their own net for several seconds. They false started a couple of times and the crowd got restless. Finally, they attempted to move out of the zone with a long pass. It was woefully off the mark. From a few rows back, “Nice pass….a–hole.”
We need something new to say after opposing player introductions. The word, “sucks,” has been killed. It’s dead. Send flowers.
From the 400-level I had a great vantage point. I could see the whole surface, I could see the puck and the play just fine, but the only thing missing was the audio. The usual sounds of the hockey game were missing. You’d occasionally hear a puck strike the boards, but the telltale clack of sticks, the shouts of players, the quick direction change of the skates…it was all missing. It was a little like watching the game muted on TV.
Claude Giroux is very, very good. He’s the best Flyer we’ve had in a long time and this impression is only reinforced in person. He’s confident, he draws a ton of attention, and he’s got great hands. In the earliest moments of Giroux’s career you’d hear people compare him to Peter Forsberg. This kind of hyperbole is often forgotten when players fail to reach their potential, but Giroux looks like a legitimate top-5 player in the league. Now, if the team could just find a top-15 goalie.
Speaking of good players, Henrik Lundqvist looks like a real roadblock for Eastern Conference playoff teams. His stop on Briere’s penalty shot, which materialized out of nowhere for those of us in the stands, sealed the win. But, he made several other big stops throughout and has handled the Flyers this season with ease.
A final impression that was driven home by this whole event was the attachment Flyers fans have to the past. It’s perhaps more prevalent than any other fan base I’ve ever encountered. I’m not talking about awareness. We all know that Yankee fans love to crow about their past success. I’m talking about a fixation on the past. A need to find comfort in that nostalgia. I think a lot of Flyers fans don’t even realize they’re in a 35+ year title drought because they think 1975 is recent history.
It was understandable that the Winter Classic weekend became a celebration of the history of hockey in Philadelphia, but the love for the old-timers, the interest in the Alumni game, the between periods ceremony–it all felt designed to cater to the desire to relive the glory days. And, it seems like Flyers fans are always looking backward. I know this because I am a Flyers fan and I look back. I look back even though I wasn’t alive for the Stanley Cup wins. I look back at Eric Lindros and cast him a generous light. I recall missed opportunities and inadequate goalies as endearing, character building experiences.
This isn’t to say that Flyers fans don’t care at all about the season at-hand. There is certainly grumbling over the defense. Concern abounds that the Bryzgalov contract will be a total bust, but the titles the team won 35 years ago still give people comfort. And, if you don’t have that you can remember Hextall’s run to the Conn Smythe. And, if you don’t have that you can remember the Legion of Doom.
I’m not sure if it is out of necessity that Flyers fans have resorted to this type of thinking, or if it’s another oddity of hockey’s niche appeal, but when Bill Clement came out in between the 1st and 2nd periods to introduce “The Broad Street Bullies,” there was part of me that was thinking, really? Again with the Broad Street Bullies? When is this not going to be enough anymore? When is the fan base going to require more than Dave Schultz nostalgia to gush? If the 40th reunion of a cup winning team is still the best thing this franchise has going for it in a few years I think that will be a shame, but I also think the fans will happy to celebrate it.