The Flyers lost to the Rangers, 3-to-2 yesterday, in the NHL’s Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.
The once-in-a-lifetime chance of seeing their team play outdoors made the loss easier to swallow for Flyers fans. The game took hockey back to its frozen-pond roots.
The Winter Classic was delayed until late afternoon because of the weather–temperatures in the mid-40’s would have been too warm. Fans tailgating in the parking lot happily spent a few extra hours grilling, and play beer pong.
“They are very peaceful,” said Steve Adler, a Ranger’s fan in a sea of Flyers orange. “I’m ready to throw down. I got four guys, we’re ready to take on anybody.”
Whether cheering for the Rangers or Flyers, this was a rare opportunity to see professional hockey played outdoors. Tailgater George Mundy, a pre-teen from Newtown, Bucks County, said sometimes he gets to play in the rough.
“At my uncle’s pond in New Jersey. It’s more cold outdoors, usually.”
“The pond ruins your blades,” said his friend Courtney Kurz.
Kurz, a goalie in a youth league, was excited to see second-string goalie Sergei Bobrovsky start, as star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was benched.
“He’s kind of wierd. Mr Universe,” said Kurz of Bryzgalov, the Flyers’ $51 million player. “But I like both goalies. They are good goaltenders.”
Inside Citizens Bank Park, the pre-game fanfare ran hot. The Roots played on the field, and R&B legend Patti LaBelle sang the National Anthem, accompanied by a fighter jet buzzing the stadium at the crescendo.
“I seen the Phillies for the World Series here, and this is about equal,” said Sean Freedman, a Flyers fan awed by the ice in the middle of the ballpark. “This is amazing. This is amazing. I can’t even tell you. This is amazing.”
The first period was relatively uneventful. Nothing went in the net until the second period, when the Flyers knocked two in within a few minutes, the first by Brayden Schenn, the second by Claude Giroux.
That was it for the Flyers. Quickly thereafter the Rangers put themselves on the scoreboard in the second period, and two more in the third sealed the game.
The old Spectrum arena could seat just over 17,000 people, and the joke was that it held all of the Flyers fans. But more than double that number came to the baseball stadium to see hockey ice glowing under stadium lights.
“I’m a huge Flyer fan,” said Matt Lane, who has seen four of the five Winter Classic games, including when the Flyers played in Boston. “Fenway, and then this is better than ever–just seeing the Flyers play outside.”
NBC and Comcast hope that hockey buzz lasts. They used this Winter Classic game to launch the new NBC Sports Network. The 24-hour cable channel will largely be leveraging hockey games and the upcoming London Olympics to try to compete with ESPN.