The Wachovia Spectrum, which hadn’t hosted an NHL game since May 14, 1996, was back in business as the Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes played a preseason match that will be the last NHL game played there. The Spectrum is scheduled to be demolished next year.
There was no high-tech scoreboard for replays or messages exhorting fans to cheer. It wasn’t needed. In typical, old-school style, the sellout crowd roared at the appropriate moments and the old house never sounded better. The sellout crowd of 17,700 stood, clapped and cheered throughout the final minute of the game, providing one final encore in the building where it all began.
The Flyers won, 4-2, behind Mike Richards, who scored twice. The result, however, wasn’t all that important. The memories were. Philadelphians had the opportunity to salute 11 of the franchise’s captains, including Lou Angotti, Ed Van Impe, Bobby Clarke, Mel Bridgman, Bill Barber, Dave Poulin, Ron Sutter, Kevin Dineen, Eric Desjardins, Keith Primeau and Derian Hatcher. All were there, donning brightly colored orange suit jackets with the Flyers emblem.
“Even though the Spectrum was a new building in the late ‘60’s, it was really an old building,’’ Poulin said. “It intimidated other teams and was very unique in many ways. I never considered the Flyers an expansion franchise because they established an immediate identity and the Spectrum was part of the identity. It was an identity that lasted throughout the history of the franchise and that’s unusual.
“Even the Original Six teams haven’t been able to establish an identity that’s been as consistent as the Flyers,’’ Poulin added. “The Spectrum is a unique, tiny little building that, somehow, enabled the fans to be closer to you physically and, as a result, were much more closer to you emotionally.’’
Clarke recalled May 19, 1974, when the Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at the Spectrum to become the first expansion team to win the Cup in NHL history.
“Philadelphia is the No. 1 professional hockey town in this country,’’ Clarke said. “We have sold out our building, and have ever since the beginning of the ‘70’s. No city comes close to Philadelphia fans for professional hockey. I know Detroit calls itself ‘Hockeytown,’ but they were 3,000 short of a sellout last year and that was never the case in Philadelphia.’’
It was almost 35 years ago when Kate Smith first strolled out onto the ice at the Spectrum to perform “God Bless America’’ and send thousands of Flyers fans into an absolute tizzy. Her rendition not only instilled a sense of pride in all Flyers fans, but became the unofficial anthem of the arena itself. That was Oct. 11, 1973 – a 2-0 victory over goalie Doug Favell and the Maple Leafs in the season-opener.
Lauren Hart, the daughter of the late Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster, Gene Hart, has since continued the tradition by accompanying an video replay of Smith’s memorable appearance on the Spectrum ice. She was there on Saturday singing in unison, yet again, with Philadelphia’s first lady.
“Our whole life revolved around this building,’’ Hart said. “I saw my first concert and, of course, my first hockey game here. For me, it was always a place of wonder because I’d sneak in the corridors and try to catch a glimpse of the players outside the locker rooms. I am so proud to be able to sing ‘God Bless America’ and I think it’s amazing that my music career has kind of connected with hockey. It came at a time when I really needed it personally (following the death of her father on July 16, 1999) and it certainly evolved. I think my dad would not believe it if he were here; this is a bittersweet day for me.’’
Bob Kelly, one of the many former Flyers, will never forget Kate Smith and how she electrified the Spectrum.
"It’s a building of history and pride and anytime I was involved in a game at the Spectrum as a member of the Flyers, I felt extremely fortunate" -- Former captain, Bill Barber
“I still get emotional when they have the video of her with Lauren Hart,’’ Kelly said. “I remember the first time she sang and we all looked at one another and said, ‘Who is this woman and what does she stand for?’ We were 19-year-old kids who never served in a war, but it was very inspirational. It was fun to see how the people embraced the game (on Saturday) without the Jumbotron scoreboard, kissing game and all those goofy things that go on today to get people going. The Spectrum always seemed to give us an advantage before even stepping on the ice.’’
Bill Barber, who captained the Flyers from 1981-83, said he was privileged to play in the Spectrum.
“It’s a building of history and pride and anytime I was involved in a game at the Spectrum as a member of the Flyers, I felt extremely fortunate,’’ Barber said. “This building is home to a lot of players and great memories. As captains, we are proud to have played in front of the fans here. To have an opportunity to win two Stanley Cups was very special and one other moment I’ll never forget was our victory over the Russians (on Jan. 11, 1976).’’
The Flyers became the first NHL team to defeat the Soviet Red Army team – a 4-1 triumph.
“I was asked a question about the whole Russian thing and how that all came about,’’ Poulin said. “The bottom line is the Flyers and Spectrum managed to chase a whole political system out of the building, not just a team. They chased communism right out of the building.’’
It was a check by Flyers defenseman Van Impe that forced the Soviets off the ice for several minutes before finally being coaxed to continue by Flyers Chairman Ed Snider.
“(Then NHL President) Clarence Campbell couldn’t stand the way we played, but he came into our locker room and told us we represented the NHL and to just play our game,’’ Van Impe said. “We beat the Russians and the Flyers played their brand of hockey in front of their fans in this place. I’m sure the Russians were expecting a tough game, so we certainly didn’t want to send them home disappointed.’’
“The game was significant only because the Russians had been so successful against the other NHL teams and we were the defending Stanley Cup champions,” Clarke said. “I think it was significant for the League. Honestly, though, we didn’t feel like we were representing the NHL; we were representing the Philadelphia Flyers and wanted to beat the damn Russians in our building and we did.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.