Expect the Philadelphia Flyers
to break out the video of Kate Smith, Philadelphia's self-proclaimed "First Woman of Hockey" prior to the opening faceoff of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins
(7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS).
It was almost 38 years ago that Smith first strolled onto the ice at the old Spectrum to perform "God Bless America" and send thousands of Flyers fans into an absolute tizzy. Her singing not only instilled a sense of pride in all Philadelphia hockey fans, but became the unofficial anthem of the arena itself. That was Oct. 11, 1973 -- a 2-0 victory against goalie Doug Favell and the Toronto Maple Leafs
in the season opener.
She again performed the song before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 19, 1974, and goalie Bernie Parent
and the Flyers proceeded to shut out the Bruins, 1-0, en route to the first of two straight championships.
"I remember (then-Spectrum president) Lou Scheinfeld had noticed people in those days, in the '70s, when there was a lot of turmoil in the country, and some people weren't standing for the National Anthem," Comcast-Spectacor Chairman and Flyers founder Ed Snider said. "One day he decided to play 'God Bless America' and put Kate up on the screen and we won the game (against Toronto). After that, I never wanted to know when she was being played. I was superstitious and he and others decided when they were going to do it and our record was fantastic even before the first Cup. We had her in person and I particularly remember our first Cup against Boston when Bobby Orr
and Phil Esposito
hoped to break the curse by skating up to her and giving Kate flowers, but it didn't work."
Smith died in 1986 at the age of 79, but her spirit and her rendition of the patriotic song still get Flyers fans as revved up now as it did when she performed live. Current anthem singer Lauren Hart -- the daughter of the Flyers' late Hall of Fame broadcaster Gene Hart -- performs the song accompanied by a video of Smith singing.
They don't go all-out with the video every game, only for special occasions -- like the regular-season finale, when the Flyers needed to beat the New York Rangers
to get into the playoffs. Smith and Hart opened the game, and the Flyers closed with a win.
So far this postseason, the Flyers are 2-0 when Smith and Hart do their thing. The Flyers and their fans are most certainly going to need all the motivation and inspiration this 40-word song can bring Wednesday evening.
"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," Hart told NHL.com. "It came at a time when I really needed it personally (following the death of her father July 16, 1999) and it certainly evolved. I think my dad would not believe it if he were here."
And it makes Philadelphia an even tougher place for the visiting team.
"It's a very tough building to play in," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron
said. "It's very loud and the Flyers are playing really good at home. They take the energy from the crowd and we have to be ready to match it. So we're going to have to be ready for that. The first shifts of the first period will be a key to be ready."
Bob Kelly, who played 10 seasons with the Flyers and was a member of those two Cup-winning teams, still gets chills whenever Hart steps on the ice to perform the song with Smith.
"I still get emotional when they have the video of her (Smith) with Lauren Hart," Kelly said. "I remember the first time (Smith) 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 and it was fun to see how the people embraced the game without the help of a scoreboard, a 'kissing game' or any of those goofy things that go on today to get people going. The singing of 'God Bless America' gave us an advantage before the puck was ever dropped."
But will it on Wednesday, with the Flyers coming off two emotional, one-goal setbacks at TD Garden in Boston?
"When you look around all the other cities in the League, Philly always seems to have the most former players involved with the current team than any other city, period," Hockey Hall of Famer and former Flyers captain Bill Barber
, today a scouting consultant for the team, told NHL.com. "There's a reason for that. One is the warmth of the fans in the city -- not the writers. But we had a unique thing where our fans were locals from South Philly and they admired the team led by (Bobby) Clarke, (Ed) Van Impe, (Barry) Ashbee, (Gary) Dornhoefer -- we took over the city in that sense.
"I don't think Philly was really recognized as a successful city until the Philly Flyers won two straight Cups. We fell short for a third straight, but I believe that first Cup (in '74 against the Bruins) set the stage."