The kickoff to the Winter Classic was nearly perfect. Bernie Parent made a magnificent exit. Eric Lindros made a grand return. And the Flyers beat the Rangers.
The players were slower, some were heavier and most had less hair. But that didn’t bother the enthusiastic sellout crowd of more than 45,000 that transformed Citizens Bank Park into a Winter Classic Wonderland on Saturday for the Flyers-Rangers Alumni Game.
The game was wall-to-wall fun, from the pregame introductions (above, Bob Clarke) to the postgame exit. Smiles were everywhere. The only question was who were enjoying themselves more, the fans or the players?
The focal point early in the game was Bernie Parent. The 66-year-old Parent decided to participate in the alumni game so he could wave goodbye to the fans one last time. But Saturday’s game turned out to be more than a ceremonial appearance. Parent made six saves, including a sliding save on a rebound and a standup save on Ron Duguay’s breakaway attempt, taking the delirious fans back in time as they serenaded their beloved goaltender with chants of “Bernie! Bernie!”
When Parent left the game after five action-packed minutes, the crowd and the players showered Parent with applause and respect. Nearly 33 years after suffering a career-ending eye injury in a game against the Rangers, Parent was able to rewrite history a little bit with a graceful and triumphant exit.
Parent also kept the Flyers in the game despite the Rangers’ early barrage. But could the Flyers take advantage of the opportunity and produce offense of their own? The answer was provided by “The Big E,” Eric Lindros.
More than 11 years since he played his final game as a Flyer and more than 10 years after he was traded to the Rangers, Lindros made his long-awaited return to orange and black. Given the acrimony surrounding Lindros’ departure, there were many who thought they would never see the day when he would return to the fold and represent the Flyers organization. But if there were any doubt it was the right move, those doubts were erased Saturday.
There was applause for Lindros every time he appeared in a highlight on the center-field screen. There was applause when he emerged from the Phillies dugout for pregame warmups. And when Lindros was officially introduced before the game (below), the fans, many wearing No. 88 jerseys, responded with what was easily the loudest and longest ovation of the day.
That ovation was nearly matched in the first period. After Mark Recchi forced a turnover in the Flyers’ defensive zone, Lindros scooped up the puck and powered down the right side in his trademark skating style, moving like a runaway freight train. Lindros slowed slightly when he hit the Rangers blue line, then fired a perfect pass to former Legion of Doom linemate John LeClair, who deposited the puck into the back of the net.
As LeClair and Lindros celebrated the goal in the left corner, smiling from ear to ear, the crowd erupted with thunderous applause. All of a sudden, it was the 1990s all over again.
Then the time machine remained in the 1990s, with a little help from the 1980s, as Shjon Podein followed up a Rick Tocchet attempt in front of the net and gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead. Former Flyers captain Dave Poulin also assisted on the goal.
The Rangers cut the Flyers’ lead to 2-1 in the third period, but Mark Howe gave the Flyers some breathing room by scoring on a penalty shot. All penalties resulted in penalty shots rather than a team being forced to play shorthanded. The game’s previous three penalty shots were stopped, but Howe, recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, ripped a wrist shot into the left side of the net.
All that was left was for a few more “Let’s go, Flyers!” chants as the Flyers ran out the clock to close out a spectacular event.
Notes: The Flyers alumni jerseys had a black “10″ on the sleeves to honor former Flyers defenseman Brad McCrimmon, who died in plane crash in September while coaching Lokomotiv in Russia. … Lindros, Podein, the recently retired Recchi and Jeremy Roenick clearly had another gear that most players no longer possessed. … If Roenick didn’t wear No. 97, Lindros would have been the final player introduced before the game. It would have been interesting to see how long the ovation for Lindros would have lasted. … The Flyers’ best five-man unit was Lindros, Recchi, LeClair and defensemen Derian Hatcher and Eric Desjardins (left). … The LCB line of Bob Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach played with the defense combination of Jimmy and Joe Watson. … After the first period, Lindros and Recchi remained on the field and sat on the bench with some of the Mites on Ice participants (below), who played on a smaller ice surface set up in the baseball infield. Maybe it’s simply because they didn’t need oxygen, as some of their teammates may have, but Recchi and Lindros gave those youngsters a memory to last a lifetime.
(All photos by Eric Fisher and Amanda Thompson. Photos may not be reprinted without permission from PhillyPhanatics.com.)
Flyers chairman Ed Snider (above) drops the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off between Hall of Famers Mark Messier and Bob Clarke. Below, Ron Hextall waves to the crowd as fellow off-ice ambassadors Dave Schultz, left, and Don Saleski look on. From the orange-powdered hot chocolate to the big videoboard in center field to the Spectator Plaza, there was plenty for the fans to enjoy inside and outside Citizens Bank Park (pictures below).
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