Bill Lyon on Ed Snider

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With the passing of Philadelphia Flyers founder Ed Snider, many encomiums have flowed forth, among them one by Bill Lyon, writing, as ever, in the Inquirer, as he is wont to do during signal moments in Philadelphia sports history.

Ed Snider by Michael Allen Goldberg via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License on Flickr

In “Snider Brought Championships to Philadelphia” (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 11, 2016), Lyon encapsulates the qualities that made Ed Snider (or, rather, Mr. Snider, his legendary honorific despite his protestations) an outstanding figure in Philadelphia and the world of ice hockey:

Ed Snider, in many ways was the model of what you want in an owner. He was a man of great passion. He poured himself into his team and more than once yielded to volatility. Incensed by what from his Nero box was perceived to be an outlandish call, he would storm out, ruddy face turning fire engine red.

Ed Snider introduced the city to hockey, taught it, and was rewarded for his efforts by a select fan base, a fiercely loyal following that achieved cult status.

Ed Snider, above all, was a fan, of hockey and of the Flyers. He wanted, above all, for the Orange and Black to win, and while the decisions he made towards that end were not universally successful, there’s no denying his passion and desire for this team. For his team, for my team, for Philadelphia’s team.

Thank you, Mr. Snider.

(Image courtesy of Michael Allen Goldberg via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License on Flickr)

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.)

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.

Bill Lyon on Lappy

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With the NHL playoffs into their second round, Philadelphia’s Bill Lyon returns to the pages of the Inquirer to reflect upon heart, and blood, and the Flyers:

The on-rushing gunner has cranked up a warp-speed slap shot and the puck, a frozen rubber bullet, is zeroed in and dead on, with nothing but ice between it and the goal. So Ian Laperriere, a right winger whose specialty is killing off penalties, follows his instincts without a second thought: He drops and offers up his body as a sacrifice.

He blocks the puck . . .

. . . with his mouth.

Ian Lapperriere (14) in DSCF1869 by Dinur via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives License

Winning Lord Stanley’s Cup takes a special kind of dedication, a peculiar willingness (that is not so peculiar amongst the men who don NHL uniforms) to suffer and bleed for the team, for the prize, for the Cup. Bill Lyon, in one of his rare returns to print, captures this willingness in the person of Ian Laperriere, a grinder, a role player for the Flyers, who only made the playoffs on the last day of the season, in overtime.

What awaits the Flyers now? Elimination, if you believe the popular sentiment.

But do not be so quick to dismiss lightly a team that has a man willing to catch frozen rubber bullets. With his face.

Repeatedly.

Like Bill Lyon, the Flyers hold a special place in the hearts of Philadelphians, both native and expatriate like myself. It’s good to see them both working their trade in May.

(Image courtesy of Dinur via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives License)

Bill Lyon on the Flyers

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Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer plays host to a great column by the retired Bill Lyon on the current second round NHL playoff series between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s not excessively objective, but neither is it a “homer” screed; it’s just a very good piece of hockey journalism that manages to recap last night’s game with style:

Goalies are not fair game, no matter how far they roam. But Downie cannot resist. He aims for the goalie’s legs and, using his stick like an oversized spatula, he flips Price. The Canadiens take outraged exception, and the Flyers must retaliate, of course, so soon the ice is littered with gloves and sticks, and unkind things are being said about ancestry. The population of the penalty box goes up by four.

Orange Out, on flickr.com, by MattP33, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License
Perhaps I’d like the column less if I were a fan of Les Habitants, but I hope not. It’s simply good sports writing, so rare these days and rarer still since Lyon’s retirement a few years back.

(Image courtesy of MattP33 via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License.)