The Flyers defeated the Rangers 3-1 last night in the 2012 Winter Classic Alumni game. Between the two teams, eight Hall of Famers took to the ice, as well as a few more players who are up for debate or will be inducted when they become eligible. Only in these type of games you can have a 28 year old (Dan Blackburn) on the ice at the same time as a 68 year old (Joe Watson).
For the 45,000+ fans, it was one last time to see their favorites that they grew up watching, and for the younger generations to see players that they didn’t have the privilege to see. Everyone had a different player they were excited to see ranging from the Stanley Cup winners from the ’70s (Clarke, Parent, Barber) to the ’80s Cup contenders (Poulin, Propp, Howe) as well as the Legion of Doom teams (Lindros, LeClair, Desjardins) and the more recent players (Roenick, Recchi and Hatcher). There were some Rangers fans in the house and they were excited to see their alumni players like Messier, Leetch and Gartner.
Bernie Parent got the loudest ovation out of all the players, twice. The first was when he was introduced and second when he left the game 5:32 into the first period after making six saves on six shots. The crowd chanted “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie” every time the 66 year old goalie made a save, including a nice breakaway stop of Ron Duguay. He got to leave the ice on his terms, after being forced to retire in 1979 due to an eye injury. For his five and a half minutes of shutout hockey (and perhaps playing a little to the fans), Parent was named first star of the game.
The next loudest ovation was for former Flyers captain Eric Lindros, who donned the orange and black for the first time since May 26, 2000 when he was knocked out of the game by Scott Stevens. He assisted on former Legion of Doom linemate John LeClair’s goal and was named second star of the game. Many fans broke out their #88 jerseys and were excited to see his “return” to the Flyers. Lindros’ former rival Darius Kasparaitis, playing for the Rangers, was given the loudest boos of the day.
Goaltender Mark LaForest stole the show, however, stopping all 16 shots he saw during his period and a half of action. He denied Nick Kypreos on a penalty shot early in the second period and had some other nice saves throughout the game. LaForest was named third star of the game and promptly was the most googled player after the game by fans under the age of 25.
Shjon Podein scored the Flyers’ second goal on a scramble in front of the Ranger net during the first period but was denied on a penalty shot by Dan Blackburn in the second period. On another penalty shot in the third period, New Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Howe beat Blackburn to give the Flyers their 3-1 lead. Glenn Anderson scored the only Rangers goal. Anderson was also awarded a penalty shot late in the game but was stopped by Neil Little. The penalty shots were called by longtime NHL referee Kerry Fraser, who came out of retirement and was a natural choice to call the game.
All of the players, from both teams, who were interviewed during the game told the crowd that they hadn’t played outdoors since they were young kids and were excited to get back on the ice one last time. The players seemed to enjoy themselves, with big smiles on their faces and joked with other players and announcers throughout the game.
The Flyers also honored the late Brad McCrimmon by wearing a small #10 patch on the shoulder of their jerseys. McCrimmon was one of 44 killed in the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv plane crash in Septemer.
One small problem with the game was that it was hard to distinguish between players who wore a duplicate jersey number. Both teams had multiple players with the same jersey number, including three players who wore #19 for the Rangers.
The Flyers may have won the game but the winner were the fans who got to see some of hockey’s greats skate one more time.