PHILADELPHIA – They’re more than just teammates. They’re a brotherhood.
Whether they won a championship or just a nondescript game in the middle of January, any player who ever competed in a Flyers uniform considers himself part of a family.
So that family got together for another reunion on Monday night and the occasion was the Orange and Black Alumni Game as part of the Flyers Hall of Fame celebration which will conclude with the induction of Paul Holmgren and Rick Tocchet on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Hockey Hall of Fame coach Fred Shero, posting a saying on the wall prior to Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals, probably best described the feeling when he wrote, “Win today and we walk together forever.’’
How right he was.
Forty-seven years later, the Flyers are still walking together.
Simon Gagne, one of the most clutch players in Flyers history, said the years might pass but the feeling of being back in Philadelphia among his peers never grows old. Although he went on to win championships in other cities, this is the place he calls his second home.
“It’s fun to come back and see the guys you played with,’’ Gagne said at a pre-game press briefing. “It’s a big family here in Philly.’’
Danny Briere said he wanted to come to the Flyers because of their rich history and the fact they were built around the dream of one man, Ed Snider.
“It was the place that everyone wanted to go play,’’ Briere said. “I think it started with Mr. Snider and the culture that he tried to build here. He was one of the best owners in sports. That same culture is still here. You look around at how strong the alumni is, how well they (the Flyers) take care of their players. Look at how many players are coming back and want to be part of it. It’s one of the strongest alumni out there. It’s special to be part of that Flyers family.’’
Gagne was a first-round draft pick and the attraction to Philadelphia for him was the tradition of winning.
“Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Bernie Parent. . .guys who won the Stanley Cup,’’ Gagne recalled. “My first day at training camp, the Flyers welcomed me to be part of the family. Even today, it’s why I call Philly my second home. Even today, even though I haven’t seen these guys in four or five years, it feels like yesterday.’’
Gagne said when he was traded to Tampa Bay, it took him three months to make the adjustment from not wearing a Flyers jersey.
“It was an honor to wear that (Flyers) jersey,’’ he said. “Playing for the Flyers is really something special. I’m looking forward to putting on the jersey again tonight.’’
As for the game, a nice crowd of about 4,000 turned out to cheer on the heroes of the past. Team Black won, 6-5.
In pre-game introductions, players such as Eric Lindros, Mark Howe and John LeClair received enthusiastic applause, as did Holmgren, Tocchet, Clarke, Barber and others from the Stanley Cup teams.
First period goals were scored by Riley Cote and Gagne for Team Orange and Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul for Team Black.
In the second period, Upshall added a pair of goals to complete a hat trick. Brad Marsh responded to cut Team Black’s lead to 4-3. But then Todd Fedoruk and Lindros scored for Team Black to make it 6-3. In the third period, Gagne scored again to get Orange within 6-4. Donald Brashear then made it 6-5.
After the game, Upshall and Mike Knuble talked about how great it was to come back to Philadelphia and help honor Holmgren and Tocchet. “It’s phenomenal to have those two guys go in the Flyers Hall of Fame,’’ Knuble said. “The fan support is crazy. My plane was late, I missed the warmup, I got dressed got out there and said holy cow, there are thousands of people out here.’’
Upshall has only been out of the game a few years so the memories of his playing days are fresh.
“I really enjoyed playing in this building,’’ he said. “And in front of these fans. Paul Holmgren, who was the architect of our team, and guys like Danny Briere and Simon Gagne, having beers with them was the highlight of the night.’’