Story by Kelly Kusumoto, Photography by Colleen Cahill
The National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway, but the Philadelphia Flyers are on the outside looking in. They just concluded their 50th season since entering the NHL and Explore-Philly was there to experience the last game of the season.
The fans were decked out in orange and black. Flyers jerseys were everywhere. There was a definite sense of bittersweet pride for the home team knowing going into the game it would be their last and that the pure awesomeness of playoff hockey would have to wait until next year.
That bittersweet feeling lasted pretty much the entire first period. The flyers played decently but the crowd of 19,559 was mostly tame. Then, when the Carolina Hurricanes scored first, Wells Fargo Center fell silent. The period ended with Carolina up 1-0.
But then during the first intermission, the kids came out and played a seven-minute scrimmage. There’s nothing like kids to remind everyone to have fun at a sporting event. The intermission was then capped by everyone’s favorite, the Zamboni, which I truly believe brought the spirit back into the fans. That and a few beers, maybe.
When the second period started, it was the Flyers who came out dominating play. This time there were “Let’s go Flyers” chants and more oohs and aahs with each check into the boards. Just before the halfway point of the period and game, Dale Weiss scored the first of his two goals that night to tie it up. The arena seemed to explode. I have been to hundreds of hockey games. I’ve been to Stanley Cup Finals games and when the Flyers scored, the crowd was as loud as any game I’ve been to. This being my first time at Wells Fargo Center, I was starting to worry about the rowdy reputation Philly sports fans have. But after that goal, it was clear that they get as loud and crazy as advertised.
When the third period started, the intensity in the building was much higher than the previous two periods. The two teams were tied going into the last twenty minutes of the season. Both would be missing the playoffs, so this was their last shot to start their vacation on a high note. Needless to say, it was an exciting period.
Both teams scored two goals each in the third. With each Carolina goal, the building deflated. Then with each Flyers goal, bombs seemed to be going off. The period ended in a tie and suddenly neither team wanted to go home.
So, we went into 3-on-3, sudden death overtime. In my opinion, 3 on 3 is the most exciting aspect of hockey. The offense, intensity, and emotion pick up 100-fold and this overtime was no different. There were scoring chances aplenty. And with each chance the fans were moved, many of them standing the whole five minutes. Yet, no one scored. So, we headed into a best-of-three shootout, which is another crowd pleaser even though hockey purists hate when the game is decided on individual plays rather than through team effort.
Eventually, the Hurricanes prevailed, but the shootout and the night provided something much more than the closing of another hockey season. Hurricanes player, Bryan Bickell, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis earlier in the season. This game was his final as he announced his retirement a few weeks prior. There was a touching tribute to him during the game, and Flyers players and fans gave him a warm applause in support. But the highlight of the night was when he scored during the shootout. Everyone realized it was his last NHL goal and as he skated towards the benches to give his teammates high-fives, some of the Flyers extended their hands as well. To me, that was the defining moment of the night. It transcended sport and competition. It showed that when it all comes down to it, we’re all humans fighting to stay alive. It was quite a sight to see.
I can’t wait until next season, where Flyers fans can hopefully celebrate long after April has passed. The rafters and the city could use another championship banner soon.