I have vague memories of being a toddler, and wandering in with my father to a strange, circular building with brown panels framing the outside of the structure. I remember being picked up and carried to the interior, then eating popcorn and a soft pretzel, and covering my ears after the loud droning buzzer sound that made me scared. The year would have been 1999 or 2000 depending on what time of the season it was (that unfortunately I do not remember), and the building was the Spectrum, the original home of the Philadelphia Flyers until the Core States Center (now the Wells Fargo Center) opened in 1996. At the time, the building was the home of the Flyers AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia (now Lehigh Valley) Phantoms. That memory I have was of my first ever hockey game, and my dad used to take my to Phantoms games all the time (since he did not want the foul language that could be found at Flyers games to make an impression on me). Though back then I was scared of the goal horn, I eventually grew to love the loud sound that I would associate with my favorite sport.
Now, at the time, The Flyers were a team who were very different to watch from the current incarnation. Their captains were Eric Desjardins, and eventually for the majority of the era, Keith Primeau, a scrappy veteran center who would become a hero just months later in the playoffs in the famous “5 overtime” game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and again later in the 2004 playoffs. The team overall felt strange to watch after the volatile departure of Eric Lindros to the Rangers, and at the time they were a much more physical team in spirit of the Broad Street bullies (as they were under the guidance of GM Bobby Clarke, the Bullies’ captain). The team boasted bruisers such as Donald Brashear and Todd Fedoruk, and fights were commonplace not only in the era, but particularly for the team, including a famous brawl against the Ottawa Senators in 2004. This is the team grew up around, and many pieces of these Flyers teams would shape their 2007-08 comeback season and Cup running team of 2009-10 that solidified my fandom. Players like Simon Gagne played on those teams, and favourites like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were drafted in this era, and were heavily talked about at the time. Up to that season, I had been a Flyers fan, but in 2007 I really started to get heavily involved in my hockey fandom.
The previous year, the Flyers were the worst team in hockey. They were forced to trade key players such as Peter Forsberg, and were not likely candidates to make the playoffs. However, they did just that in 2007-08. That year was a special year for Philadelphia sports, as the Eagles had made it to the NFC Championship game and the Phillies would go on the win the World Series. However, the NHL Playoffs provided a moment of pure inspiration from the Flyers.
It was Game 7 of their round 1 matchup against the Washington Capitals, and the game was in overtime. Kimmo Timonen had a shot stopped by Cristobal Huet, however, Huet lost sight of the puck, and there to find the rebound was Joffrey Lupul who sent the Flyers through to the next round. I remember being driven home from an event that night. My family and I were listening to the game on the radio, and as soon as we got in the house, we rushed to turn on the television. We fortunately were able to watch the last 10 minutes before Lupul scored, and when he finally did, we all were ecstatic. We had all risen off of our old blue couch to jump up and celebrate the Flyers success, and in my eyes, we never stopped celebrating. From that moment on it became family tradition to watch Flyers games on that couch (and later the more comfortable sofa we replaced it with) with my mom, dad, and brother all gathered around the flatscreen. It is something I wholly miss, and is something I make sure to do when I am home, as minute as that may sound. It is certainly interesting now that the Flyers appear to be a team on the rise, that I am no longer living in the Philadelphia area. However, should the Flyers win the Stanley Cup or otherwise, mentally I am still on that couch, fists clenched around my old jersey willing them to fight on.