The last NHL game played at the storied Spectrum in Philadelphia on the night of May 12, 1996 wasn't exactly the most memorable in the eyes of Flyers fans.
A slap shot by Florida's Mike Hough over fallen Flyers goalie Ron Hextall at the 8:05 mark of the second overtime gave the Panthers a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal round and propelled the club to an eventual six-game series upset. The Panthers would reach the Stanley Cup Final that season -- dropping a four-game series to the Colorado Avalanche -- while the Flyers made the necessary preparations to exit the building that had been their home since 1967. The club would move just across the parking lot to the more luxurious Wachovia Center.
Perhaps it's fitting that the Flyers be given one final shot to close out their famed arena on Saturday when they'll face off against the Carolina Hurricanes at 1 p.m. in a sold-out preseason clash that is sure to rekindle fond memories. The game sold out immediately after going on sale Sept. 6.
Comcast-Spectacor, the Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment firm which owns the arena, will close the 42-year-old Spectrum at the conclusion of the 2008-09 Philadelphia Phantoms (of the American Hockey League) and Kixx (indoor soccer) seasons. It is still undetermined when and how the Spectrum will come down, whether by implosion or other means.
"This will be a wonderful opportunity for thousands of our fans, who used to attend our games at the Spectrum or watch them on TV, to come back one last time and see the Flyers in our old home," Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider said. "It'll also be the last chance for others who may have never seen the Flyers play at the Spectrum. It will be a highly emotional game for me, personally. (Closing this building) has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. The Spectrum is my baby. It's one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me."
"Bringing the Flyers back to the Spectrum for a preseason game will be the perfect start of a season-long celebration of the Spectrum," said Comcast-Spectacor President Peter A. Luukko. "We will continue to bring events to the Spectrum this year to celebrate the wonderful memories and proud tradition of the famous arena."
Due to popular demand to see the Flyers one final time in their former home, the organization added a preseason game against their AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, on Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
"The interest in seeing the Flyers one more time in their former home has been overwhelming," said Flyers Senior Vice President Shawn Tilger. "Ed Snider and Peter Luukko wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity to see the Flyers in the Spectrum one last time before it closes. This is a terrific way to accommodate the demand for tickets."
Among the many dignitaries scheduled to be on hand for the game against Carolina, including several former captains who donned the orange and black, Flyers coach John Stevens is looking forward to taking part in what is sure to be an emotionally charged afternoon.
"I was a small part of the history of the Spectrum, but the times that I had here were certainly some of the great times of my hockey experience," he said. "We won the (Calder Cup) championship (with the Phantoms) in 1998 while getting to play in the old Spectrum. It's kind of sad to see it go, but as time goes on you see a lot of these great buildings go down. There's certainly some memories that will be solidified before that happens."
Craig Berube, who on Aug. 7 was named Stevens' assistant for the upcoming season, will never forget those hockey-crazed fans of Philadelphia. During parts of seven seasons with the Flyers (1986-87 through 1990-91, 1998-99 and 1999-2000), Berube scored 54 points and 1,138 penalty minutes, the ninth highest total on the Flyers all-time list, in 323 regular-season games.
"The fondest memory I have of the Spectrum were the fans," Berube said. "It seemed like they were right on top of you; very loud and banging the glass the whole game. It just made for an unbelievable atmosphere, especially for the home team. Back then, we won so many games because of our fans packing that building. In Philly, we basically had teams beat in the first period because it was such an intimidating place."
Scott Mellanby, who played five seasons with the Flyers before eventually joining the Panthers during their Stanley Cup run in 1996, never felt out of place, even as an opponent.
"I was comfortable returning to the Spectrum after having played there for five years," Mellanby said. "We actually played the last game in that building in '96 and that's something I'll never forget. I have great memories of it and I'd like to be there for the closing of it. We came close to winning a Stanley Cup there with the Flyers and we had some fun times in that building so it's special. Philly is a great sports town and hockey town and I think when you're drafted by the Flyers and knowing their history, you kind of take a piece of them wherever you go. Similarly, if you've played or watched a game at the Spectrum, you never forget the atmosphere."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.