Waiting to receive the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s coveted Stan Hochman Award the other night, it dawned on me that I’ve covered a few hockey games in my time.
Maybe a few thousand.
Of those, how many come to mind in vivid detail as if they happened yesterday?
Well, for the sake of space restraints and not wanting to take up too much of your time, let’s go with a Top 10.
And like the old Top 10 lists that highlighted the ha-ha-ha David Letterman Show, let’s do these games in reverse order for a big build-up at the end.
Our all-time live-coverage games (1971-2020):
>No. 10 — **Rendez-vous ‘87, Game 1, Feb. 9, 1987:** This exhibition was the last great confrontation between the dying Soviet Union (Communism fell two years later) and the NHL. Dave Poulin, one of the greatest captains in Flyers’ history, scored the winning goal in a 4-3 victory when a Mario Lemieux shot deflected off Poulin with only 75 seconds to play at Le Colisee in Quebec City. Poulin always came up big in the biggest moments.
>No. 9 – **2002 Winter Olympics, Gold Medal Game, Feb. 24, 2002:** While the pros had already played one Olympics at Nagano, Japan in 1998, this tournament had more juice because it was being played on American soil (Salt Lake City), the same home country where the U.S. had won the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid in 1980. In the deciding game, with the score tied 2-2, ex-Flyer Jeremy Roenick of USA took an ill-advised penalty late in the second period. Canada’s Joe Sakic scored on the power play and Canada went on to a 5-2 win. Shame on you, Jeremy.
>No. 8 — **Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6, May 24, 1980:** Ah, yes, the infamous Leon Stickle “blown call’’ game. The Flyers still haven’t forgiven the linesman for missing an offsides violation which resulted in a Duane Sutter goal to make it 2-1 Islanders. New York eventually won the Stanley Cup in OT on a goal by Bob Nystrom. The Flyers still want that Game 7 they never saw.
>No. 7 — **World Cup, Game 3, Sept. 14, 1996:** In the first World Cup, the U.S. and Canada squared off in a best-of-three format final. Canada won the first game in an OT thriller in Philadelphia and USA took Game 2 in Montreal, setting the stage for the clincher. Tony Amonte scored the tie-breaking goal with 2:35 to play and goalie Mike Richter, a native of Flourtown, Pa., made it stand up for a 5-2 win. Oh, the Canadians were crying in their beer that night.
>No. 6 — **Flyers-Soviet Red Army Game, Jan. 11, 1976:** This game had everything: The Soviet team had gone through a tour of NHL teams undefeated. Meanwhile, Flyers owner Ed Snider professed a public hatred for everything Russian. Plus, Bobby Clarke had slashed Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle in the 1972 Summit Series. Ed Van Impe provided an encore on Kharlamov, the Soviet team walked off, came back and got bounced, 4-1. If you stand in the parking lot where the Spectrum once stood, you can almost still hear the echoes of the roar from that crowd.
>No. 5 — **2010 Winter Olympics, Gold Medal Game, Feb. 28, 2010:** This one especially rankled Flyers’ fans because the OT winner was scored by their “favorite’’ player Sidney Crosby at Vancouver. But aside from that, it was the best Olympic gold medal game ever played. USA’s Zach Parise scored with 24 seconds to play to tie the score at 2-2 before Crosby’s heroics in overtime. Just another reason for Philly fans to boo whenever “Sid the Kid’’ hits town.
>No. 4 – **Stanley Cup semifinals, Game 6, May 25, 1994:** In perhaps the greatest single-game performance I’ve ever witnessed, New York Rangers captain Mark Messier backed up his guarantee of a win over the N.J. Devils by scoring three goals and assisting on another in a 4-2 win, evening the series at 3-3. N.Y. would go on to win Game 7, then win its first Stanley Cup in 54 years by defeating Vancouver in the Finals. I call him Captain Clutch.
>No. 3 – **Stanley Cup quarterfinals, Game 7, May 14, 2010:** Talk about improbable comebacks. . .the Flyers were down 3-0 at one point in the best-of-seven series against Boston, then 3-0 in Game 7. But the Flyers became only the third team in history (at the time) to rally from a 3-0 series deficit when Simon Gagne completed the comeback for a 4-3 win. They’re still talking about that one.
>No. 2 — **Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6, May 28, 1987:** For all the world it looked like the Edmonton Oilers had this series clinched after taking a 2-0 first-period lead over the Flyers. But Philly clawed back on a second-period goal by Lindsay Carson, another by Brian Propp in the third and finally the game-winner from J.J. Daigneault with 7:32 to play. Ron Hextall later said it was the loudest he ever heard the Spectrum.
>No. 1 — **Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6, May 19, 1974:** Boston had Bobby Orr, the best defenseman in NHL history, but the Flyers had the Broad Street Bullies and that made the difference. Rick MacLeish scored the winner off a point shot from Andre Dupont. I can still see him doing the “Moose Shuffle’’ and later the parade down Broad Street.