Memories on Ice: The Philadelphia Flyers at 50 by Jay Greenberg

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The Philadelphia Flyers at 50 by Jay GreenbergIn celebration of their fifty year anniversary, the Philadelphia Flyers have published a handsome commemorative hardback book, The Philadelphia Flyers at 50, by Jay Greenberg. The title is actually a bit of a misnomer, as the book focuses almost exclusively on the last twenty seasons of Flyers hockey, the first thirty having been covered previously in Greenberg’s Full Spectrum.

Indeed, there’s simply that much history, that much tradition to cover, and here Greenberg explores each season from 1996 through to the present in incredible depth. There’s not much in the way of filler in this nearly six hundred page book. Between Greenberg’s two tomes, you have a definitive, richly illustrated history of the Orange and Black.

Though perhaps there’s an understandable tendency towards the hagiographic in any authorized history, I appreciate Greenberg’s willingness to look critically at the team, particularly several of the years that the Flyers spent in the non-playoff wilderness during the past two decades. No one gets much of a pass for poor trades, lousy performance, or uninspired coaching—there’s a generous helping of tough love doled out, if you will. And love there is, as Greenberg’s passion for the project shows through the carefully researched work. It’s a must-read for every Philadelphia Flyers fan, and between the profiles of the top fifty Flyers heroes and the detailed explication of seasons past, peppered through with insights from players and staff, even the most knowledgeable supporter of the Flyers will find some new tidbit or anecdote.

The Philadelphia Flyers at 50 by Jay Greenberg

The Philadelphia Flyers at 50 by Jay Greenberg

To that end, it’s inexplicable that the book does not seem to be referenced at all on the Flyers website amidst all the other anniversary materials. Rest assured that the normal online book retailers have copies. The Philadelphia Flyers at 50 deserves a place on the bookshelf of every fan of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Is There a Penalty Box in the TARDIS?: Doctor Who Hockey Jerseys

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I’m always so very pleased when my keenest interests collide, and never more so than when they happen to be Doctor Who and hockey. Behold, then, the mind-blowing awesomeness that is the Doctor Who Hockey Jersey:

TARDIS Hockey Jersey from davesgeekyhockey.com via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License

I really don’t know what to say, other than to express my disappointment that the first run has already been spoken for. A second version is apparently on tap for May, so I’ll have to keep my eye on Dave’s Geeky Hockey for that announcement. But which Doctor? I’m certainly a Tom Baker partisan, but my recent experiences with William Hartnell have put me in a First Doctor frame of mind.

(Image courtesy of davesgeekyhockey.com via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License)

(via Geekadelphia)

From Slapshots to Three Point Shots

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The Washington Post‘s always entertaining Capitals Insider, now ably helmed by Katie Carrera in place of the former longtime Caps beat reporter Tarik El-Bashir, features a nifty timelapse video of the ice-to-hardwood transition that the Verizon Center undergoes when switching from ice hockey mode to basketball mode (“Video: Watch Verizon Center’s ice-to-court changeover,” February 16, 2011):

Screengrab of Ice to Hardwood change at Verizon Center

(Screengrab only; click link for post and video.)

People are always amazed that the ice is still down there during basketball games and concerts. About the only time they physically pull the ice up in a multi-purpose arena is for events like horse shows and monster truck rallies (do such inanities still exist?). Gotta make money, I suppose.

I’m not sure if they keep the ice down during the hockey off-season or not, especially since the Caps have a dedicated practice facility elsewhere, but I’d imagine they re-lay the surface shortly before pre-season starts.

Ice quality is, without question, affected by the change to hardwood or other coverings, and the Verizon Center ice has come in for many grumblings over the years, but at least, according to the NHL players themselves, it’s not the worst ice in the league this season. According to the CBC/NHLPA poll results released over the All-Star weekend, that dubious honor goes to the Panthers’ home rink, the BankAtlantic Center, in Sunrise, Florida. Bad ice in Florida? Who’d a thunk? Though I wager the ice quality is more directly impacted by the amount of time the ice spends covered for other events than by latitude.

Superheroes on Skates

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As the (arguably) number four sport in America, hockey has always had to try just a little bit harder for attention and recognition. Relegated now to Versus and the rare NBC Sunday game for national television coverage, the National Hockey League constantly fights to keep its product in the spotlight with a variety of gimmicks.

Few sports fans could forget the happily discarded glowing puck during the NHL’s seasons on Fox, and there has been a lamentable trend of late towards “ice girls” who skate skimpily onto the ice during stoppages in play to shovel up ice shavings around the creases. The recently completed all-star game featured a fantasy draft format, where the teams were picked by their respective captains rather than representing a conference or a country as in years past, an innovation that garnered a fair bit of press. And one could make the case that the shootout used after a five minute overtime period has failed to find a winner is a similar gimmick designed to produce a fan-friendly winner rather than resulting in a drab draw.

In that vein of attention-seeking, then, one must consider the Guardian Project:

The Flyer Strikes!

In collaboration with Marvel Comics, the NHL has created a superhero based on each team’s logo. From the Red Wing to the Capital to the Canuck, each superhero defends his team’s town, using lots of very specific locations and references—the Predator, for instance, chases bad guys to John C. Tune Airport, while the Flyer has a pet bird named Wanamaker.

With a six page comic for each Guardian and animated shorts, it’s obvious that quite a bit of work has gone into this project, with the usual Marvel quality, but to what end?

In my samplings of the comics, there’s little to no connection to ice hockey in the stories themselves beyond the anthropomorphizing of the NHL logos. What seems to be occurring is an attempt to develop brand affiliation amongst a younger demographic. Too, the heroes represent qualities that the NHL would like to have associated with itself: durability, honor, bravery, strength. Kids like the comics, become fans of the hometown hero, and go to see the logo on the ice.

It’s easy to knock the Guardian Project as silly, but it’s not for me or about me. I’m already an established fan and perhaps a good thirty years past the target demographic. If the Guardian Project gets even one more hockey fan in each city, that’s good enough for me. Just don’t bring back the glowing puck.

(Image from the Guardian Project.)

Some Suds with Your Slapshot?: Verizon Center's New Beer Menu

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Beer & Hockey by Brad Lauster on flickr.com via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike LicenseIn July, Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, promised to bring better beer to the crowd at Verizon Center. Given the price of beer there, it’s the least he can do.

Doing what journalists do best, Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post‘s D.C. Sports Bog labored to compile a listing of where each of the beer choice is available this season at the Verizon Center, home of the Capitals.

Not surprisingly, mainstream domestic beers predominate the list.

Beer snobs quickly pointed out that having Bud, Bud light, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Wheat, Bud Select 55, Michelob, Michelob Amber Bock, Michelob Light and Michelob Ultra is like bragging about the incredible variety of Wonder Bread available at your brand new bakery.

But there were more than a few beers on the list that we’d all like to drink, leading to the next problem.

That problem being, of course, where to find the superlative suds. Dan Steinberg’s comprehensive location guide will help once you’ve narrowed down your decision.

Looking over the beer list, I have to confess that I don’t see much new from my visits last season. Kona Fire, Czechvar, Starr Hill, and Fordham Copperhead are the only selections I don’t recall. Still, the location guide will be handy for my next visit this year. Section 424 beer stand, here I come!

(Image courtesy of Brad Lauster via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike license.)

Reflections on the Run

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The Stanley Cup has been lifted once more, and once more, it has been lifted in a city other than Philadelphia. The Chicago Blackhawks quenched a 49-year drought with their four games to two Stanley Cup Finals win over the Flyers, and I must say that they are worthy champions. The ‘Hawks earned the Cup this year.

Let's Go Flyers!

Yet the Flyers aren’t just also-rans in this contest. Their improbable run to the Cup Finals has been well documented, from the last-day-of-the-season qualification for the playoffs (in a shoot-out, no less) through to their resurgence after being down three games to none against the Boston Bruins in the Semifinals. It was a playoff run for the ages.

This year, like most, we believed in the men in Orange and Black, believed on a visceral, almost unconscious level. Didn’t matter that they went down 3-0 in Game 7 of the Semifinals. They’ll find a way. When Scott Hartnell tied up Game 6 of the Cup Finals, we believed. The Flyers find ways.

They lost that game in overtime, and Chicago got the Cup, but really, and not to take anything away from the ‘Hawks, that’s almost beside the point.

This year’s team gave its fans, if not the Stanley Cup, then something worth almost as much: they reminded us why we are Flyers fans. More than any Flyers team since the mid-1980s, this group played with heart and passion, grit and drive. They played smart, disciplined, hard hockey. They played Flyers’ hockey. They just didn’t quit.

If the Flyers had won the Cup, it would have been glorious, make no mistake, but not just because they would have won, but because of how they would have won. Their play might not have always been pretty, but it was beautiful, beautiful in the purity of its intention.

The Flyers played with style. Style matters, and heart is style at its most elemental.