Looking down from that big coach’s box in the sky, the words Fred Shero inscribed on his blackboard the day the Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 never rang more true.
"Win Today and We’ll Walk Together Forever!"
Saturday’s Alumni Game, featuring blasts of the Flyers’ past from four decades, was a testament to Freddie, a man who often went against the grain of his counterparts with his famed "system," yet with spectacular results. That the Flyers beat the Rangers 3-1 in the leadoff event to Monday's Winter Classic was one thing.
That some 45,000 fans poured into Citizens Bank Park, turning the red-and-white home of the Phillies into a sea of orange and black was entirely something else. Freddie would have loved it. Certainly his old players — and those he never knew — did.
"I think what this day signifies is that it’s not just the Cup guys," said 61-year-old center Orest Kindrachuk, who dug out a wig and mustache for the occasion that enabled him to look like his old self. "I can look the way I used to. I just can’t play the way I used to. "There’s just a special bond when you’re a Flyer. Obviously, when he was saying that we didn’t know what he meant. But the bond when you play for the Flyers is a big deal."
For the fans as well, many of whom shelled out big bucks for the privilege of cheering on some of their heroes one last time. Flyers jerseys across the years were seen throughout the ballpark, ranging from Bernie Parent’s No. 1 to Bobby Clarke (16), Mark Howe (2), Mark Recchi (8) and Jeremy Roenick (97). They even dug out all those No. 88 Eric Lindros jerseys, which have been tucked away in disgrace ever since his inglorious departure more than a decade ago, then lustily cheered him louder than anybody during pregame introductions.
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"It was real nice,” said Lindros, who celebrated his return by setting up old linemate John LeClair for the game’s first goal. "It’s been a while since I’ve been back here, and I’m real happy to be back. It felt real special to walk through there and to be announced."
That was the universal feeling that reverberated throughout the place. The hockey itself was what you would expect in an old timer’s game. The Flyers dominated play, even though most of them were considerably older than the opposition. Shjon Podein and Howe scored the other goals, with Howe’s coming via a penalty shot which was instituted for all penalties.
The 66-year-old Parent made some big saves early, including stopping longtime Flyer nemesis Ron Duguay on a breakaway that gave way to Mark Laforest and Neal Little. That duo, who combined for 10 wins in 40 games during their careers, held the fort as well as Parent or Ron Hextall ever did.
But that really wasn’t the story of this day.
"It was an alumni game. Not the Stanley Cup Finals," said Clarke, paired with old LCB linemates Bill Barber and Reggie Leach. "I couldn’t imagine something like this. They came out and cheered an alumni team!"
And what would Fred Shero have thought from on high?
"He coached the Rangers, too,’’ Clarke reminded reporters. "I don’t know who he’d have cheered for."
Probably all of them.
"It’s a credit to Philadelphia,’’ said Kindrachuk, who like many of them set up roots in the community after his career ended and never left. "Fifty thousand [fans]. That’s nuts.’’
No, it’s simply an example of the continuing love affair Flyers fans old and new have had for a franchise that hasn’t tasted the ultimate success since 1975. Then, as now, Fred Shero’s words have prophetically been passed down from generation to generation with one slight change.
Now they’ll skate forever together.