You saw Eric Lindros skate down the right wing, feed a perfect pass to John LeClair, who deposited the puck in the Rangers’ net. You had to remind yourself it wasn’t 1998 anymore. And then you heard the roar from a sold out Citizens Bank Park clad in orange and black with a hint of blue. You had to remind yourself that this was the alumni game, not Monday’s main event.
Last year’s Winter Classic in Pittsburgh had a Super Bowl-esque feel. It was a tough act to follow. Penguins vs. Capitals. Crosby vs. Ovechkin. The debut of HBO’s reality series ‘24/7’. The lead-up and the event itself had it all.
Despite two rivals facing each other and 24/7 stealing the spotlight, this year’s event simply hasn’t had the anticipation leading up to New Year’s Day like past Winter Classics. The city of Philadelphia would beg to differ, however.
The scene at Citizens Bank Park today was special. There wasn’t a seat to be had in the ballpark that the Philadelphia Phillies call home, as the Flyers topped the Rangers, 3-1, in front of 45,808 fans – in the alumni game. The crowd chanted “BER-NIE! BER-NIE!” for legendary goaltender Bernie Parent, who made six saves in limited time.
“The fans were fantastic. It was a great day,” Jeremy Roenick said after the game. “With all of the expectations of this weekend, the fans are making it even more so a big event.”
The city has a rich hockey history, dating back to the 1970’s; so naturally, the alumni game was going to be popular. But to sell out a 45,000-seat stadium to see a bunch of old guys play an exhibition game? Incredible.
“It was special to be out there,” Eric Desjardins said. “It was really emotional to see all the fans, all the orange and black in the stands. To have a chance to be a part of this is a great experience.”
Roenick added, “This team could support 44,000 every night, and that says something about this city.”
Today’s alumni game was proof that the Winter Classic hasn’t lost its luster (yet). On a national level, it may seem like a watered down event. And then you come to Philadelphia and think differently. Though last winter’s Winter Classic was huge in Pittsburgh, after today’s happenings, the signs are that this year’s event will at least come close to that level of excitement.
And you have to keep reminding yourself Monday hasn’t arrived yet.Photo credit: Getty Images