Love was in the air at Citizens Bank Park for Saturday afternoon’s NHL Winter Classic alumni game. It was there for longtime Flyers legends Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke and, in a redemptive sense, Eric Lindros who left town under less than stellar terms.
It was also there for the fans, coming from players overwhelmed at the reception they got from 45,808 people who, undeterred by the last-minute weather-related delay, packed the seats chanting “Let’s Go Flyers” and, of course, “Rangers Suck,” a familiar refrain for the long-time rivals who Clarke once said were his most hated foe. (It was a good-natured ribbing, though, as one fan noted, “Even the Rangers fans are loving this today. And they’re not causing problems either!”)
For most, the day was less about the final score — which would end up 3-1 Flyers — and more about seeing the legends on ice, in an outdoor arena, to bring back memories from decades past. Bernie Parent, the goalkeeper who led the team to two Stanley Cup championships in the early 1970s, started the game.
The 66-year-old Parent made several saves in his five minutes of ice time, including one dive-to-the-ice affair which prompted the standard “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie” chant.
“I don’t know how to describe it. The feeling you get when people chant your name like this, money can not buy. Any amount of money can’t buy that,” he told Comcast SportsNet after the game.
In what will perhaps become the longest lasting result of the game, however, was the rousing ovation afforded Eric Lindros, who hadn’t been back in Philadelphia after an acrimonious split with the Flyers more than a decade ago.
He assisted on a goal by former teammate John LeClair, bringing back great memories for the plethora of fans who donned their old No. 88 sweaters, the sports’ parlance for jerseys. (To be sure, there were a wide array of sweaters in the stands ranging from modern-day Winter Classic duds to tributes to the fallen goalkeeper Pelle Lindbergh.)
“It’s been special, it’s been real nice,” Lindros said to CSN. “It’s nice to be back, it really is. It’s nice to come back and to be heading out to the restaurants and the well wishes around town, it’s really special. I’m happy to be here, and to catch up with some people that I haven’t seen in a while and making new friends now.”
The game itself was pushed back from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for weather considerations on a Dec. 31 on par with the atmospheric conditions for when the Citizens Bank Park regulars are playing baseball there. And, as per hockey norm, it ended with a center-ice handshake line.
That won’t hold true for Monday, however, when the modern Flyers and Rangers face off in the NHL’s Winter Classic showcase. Expected conditions: 41 degrees with gusty winds which, come to think of it, is more like what outdoor hockey players are used to playing in.