Chapter 9: Hockey Fan In Philadelphia, Eh??

(The Hockey Bag series was previously published on NHL.com)

Growing up on the Canadian prairies, the seasonal Saturday night tradition at my house consisted of eating puffed-wheat cake and watching Hockey Night In Canada on CBC. As soon as we’d hear the familiar anthem that every living person north of 49 identifies with (da da da DAAAHH da DAAAAHHHH!!!) we’d crowd around the small screen with desert in hand to see greats like Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden take to the ice.

In addition to hockey, the evening of television entertainment was sure to bring Stompin’ Tom’s good ol’ tune and high-energy pipe organ music orchestrated to rouse viewers (and unsuspecting church ladies) from coast-to-coast. All of this was brought to you by cheese whiz, peanut butter, softee toffees, or the like.

Most of the time it didn’t even matter who won the game, or what Kraft product was being pitched. In my family, what mattered most was fond memories of time spent together, nestled safe and warm inside on a cold winter’s night on the prairie. That, and who got the biggest piece of puffed-wheat cake.

All these years later, Saturday night still brings the same song and same game to Canadians countrywide. But for me, the tradition recently took an exciting new twist. While visiting the beautiful and historic city of Philadelphia, the Flyers were scheduled for a home game. Seeing as it was Saturday night, I self-proclaimed it Hockey Night In America and embraced the opportunity to take in my first NHL game.

Okay, so it’s not exactly my first… NHL fans might recall that we used to have a little team here in my hometown called the WINNIPEG JETS. I did go to a few of those games, but wasn’t much of a hockey fan back then. Also attended an Edmonton Oilers game once, but it was the last leg of a university party bus-tour and after three days of partaking I barely knew what city I was in. (Party on Wayne… Gretzky…?)

So let’s just say that the Philadelphia Flyers versus visiting rivals the New Jersey Devils is the first NHL game that I intend on remembering – and what a memorable memory, starting with the song that kicked the evening off.

No, it was not the familiar one I’m used (da da da DAAAHH da DAAAAHHHH!!!) Nope, it went something like “OH SAY CAN YOU SEEEEEEE…” Having never been to a US sporting event in my life, unless you count the time I shot prairie dogs in Montana, right off the top I was moved by hearing the Star Spangled Banner in living colour. And it made me sure of one thing.

Toto, we’re not in Canada anymore.

I sang along in my head as we scurried off to our seats, provided by the Philadelphia Flyers to my new friends at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. In looking for Box 12, it was then, for the first time, we realized we’d be watching from prime real estate within Wachovia Centre. How lucky can a Canadian girl be?

Not only did we have an amazing view from which to watch the game, but Box 12 also had comfortable seats in which we could sit, varied menu from which to order food, and full bar from which waitresses fetched beverages upon request.

God Bless America!

Down below on the ice, and all around on the television screens, the Flyers and Devils were battling it out. Surrounded by Philadelphians, it wasn’t hard to feed off the energy of the fans. Yaaaaay Flyers! Boooooo Devils! The sentiment was unanimous throughout Box 12, and in fact, the entire arena. Except for the lone Devil sitting right beside our section.

If the jersey from New Jersey didn’t give him away right off the bat, then the fact he was the only one cheering when the Devils scored their first goal was a pretty clear indication. And then he cheered again when they scored their second goal, much to the dismay of those in and around Box 12. And then the third goal. And fourth goal. Yup, still cheering.

If by now you are wondering when his cheering stopped, it wasn’t until Philadelphia pulled their starter goalie and replaced him with another guy that would let the Devils penetrate the net with their fifth goal. And, unfortunately, there was still to be a sixth goal before the brutality was over. Final score at Wachovia Centre: New Jersey Devils 6 – Philadelphia Flyers 2. Ouch.

Indeed, the Flyers took a beating out there on the ice for three dismal periods. So dismal that many fans started leaving just a few minutes into the third period — meaning there was still nearly an entire period to play. Even though there was already a 4-point spread, it’s pro hockey. Not only could anything still happen, but the ticket prices alone for a pro hockey game warrant making the most of every single minute. Hell, stay until the zamboni comes out! You paid for it.

In talking to some of the fans, the Flyers have apparently had a couple of real rollercoaster seasons. It’s been true heartache, and I could truly feel their frustration that night in Philadelphia. And I could almost understand why, by the end of the game, there were more “boooos” for Philadelphia than for New Jersey. Which of course made for one happy lone Devil. But even though there was a heavy feeling of defeat hanging in the air all around me, I still felt like a lucky girl.

From my vantage point, just like all those years ago watching Hockey Night In Canada on CBC, it didn’t matter who actually won the game (although it would have been NICE to see the Flyers win). What mattered most was being in a different city, with a whole bunch of different faces, listening to different music (okay, someone please tell me WHY these people haven’t yet heard of Stompin’ Tom??) and drinking different beer. I was feeling true kinship with my new American pals. For a moment, I forgot that I was even in a different country. Because when it comes right down to it, the love of sport knows no borders.

And then, I spotted it… A “Team Canada” jersey across the room…

There it was, one lone red-and-white in the surrounding sea of orange-and-black, and here in my section no less. Could it really be a fellow Canadian?? Did I actually have an ally up here in Box 12?? Again, what luck! A few minutes later, one of my colleagues brought him over to say hello.

“Hey, I hear you’re from Canada – me too!” he exclaimed. “Where are you from??”

“Winnipeg,” came my reply.

“Really??” he blurted out incredulously. “Me too!”

“Get the **** out!” came my reply.

With a fountain of patriotism welling up in my chest, I gazed at the Team Canada logo emblazoned across his jersey. The maple leaf was like a beacon of light illuminating my glowing heart. I felt true Canadian pride for my home and native land as I reached out and shook his hand. Could it really be Canada night in Philadelphia?

“Unbelievable – wow, I’m blown away,” I said. “You’re actually from my hometown of Winnipeg????”

“Naaaah, not really,” he confessed. “I’m actually from Phoenix – but I thought it would be fun to tell you that.” Ouch!

Which makes the final score in Box 12: Americans 1 – Canadians… just me…