When the Flyers Alumni face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins Alumni in the 50th Anniversary Game on January 14, virtually the entire history of the Philadelphia Flyers will be represented in one way or another.
Flyers Alumni players on the ice, on the benches and attending as special guests, represent the gamut from the early post-expansion days of the late 1960s, through the Broad Street Bullies, the 1980s "Triumph and Tragedy" era, the Legion of Doom years of the 1990s and into the 2000s.
The Alumni attendees are as excited as the fans. To the players, the opportunity to renew old friendships and to make new ones with Flyers players from different eras is a big part of the attraction.
"We're all not quite the same players as we used to be, but to be on a team with these guys is just a lot of fun. I grew up watching a lot of these guys play," said goaltender Brian Boucher.
He added, half- jokingly, "I wouldn't tell them that. One, you don't want to insult them and two, you don't want to inflate their ego, either. I'll say it to you [media] guys, but I've got to keep them honest."
The two most recently retired Alumni playing in the game is forward Danny Briere. He joined the Flyers during the offseason of 2007 and, after finishing their active careers with short stints elsewhere, retired from the NHL after the 2014-15 season.
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"The best thing about when you retire, the next big games for you are the Alumni games," Briere said.
"That's where I am now. This is going to be a big one for everyone when you look at who is going to be there -- even Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, guys are coming back to the area for this game. That's what's going to be so cool about it."
Although he played for five NHL organizations and still cherishes his breakthrough years with the Buffalo Sabres, Briere became first and foremost a Flyer at heart. Like so many Alumni before him, he has made the Delaware Valley his home, raised his children here and feels connected to the community as well as to the Flyers organization itself.
"The Flyers are an organization that has so much tradition and pride. There's an identity. When you play here, you can feel that. The fans can feel that. It's a special thing," Briere said.
Briere has enjoyed his retirement as an active NHL player, and has not had any regrets about the decision.
"I don't really miss playing the game. I have liked having time to be with the kids, to be at the rink with them. I also like to be able to watch a game on TV and keep up with the whole league," Briere said.
However, there is one thing Briere and most former retired players miss: the atmosphere of being on a team a part of the dressing room environment, particularly with the team with as strong of a cultural identity as the Flyers.
"This is definitely the best part, being in the room with your teammates, and being part of a team," Flyers Hall of Fame left winger John LeClair said after Monday's Alumni skate in Voorhees.
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"What you miss when you retire is the cameraderie with the guys in the room. It's going to be great to be out there with guys I know and it's also going to be pretty cool to meet some of the Alumni guys from the earlier eras that I haven't met yet," Briere said.
While most NHL teams have Alumni organization, there is something special about the Flyers Alumni. It's not simply a matter of having once worn the uniform. Every team has ex-players. The Flyers are one of a select few who, regardless of when or even how long they played for the team, feel like they hold a piece of a larger legacy.
The feeling manifests in many ways: the Flyers Alumni and the Flyers organization itself maintain close ties. There is a familial identification than spans across every generation. For example, the Alumni board members range from president Brad Marsh to the likes of Bob "the Hound" Kelly, Don Saleski, Paul Holmgren, and Boucher.
Rather than identifying as "Flyers of the 70s, 80s, 90s or 2000s," they're all simply part of a Flyers Alumni family. The game in Reading, thus, is something akin to a family reunion with multiple generations participating.
Lastly, there's a strong connection with the community. The Flyers Alumni Association and the Flyers Alumni Team are tireless in raising funds and donating both time and money to a host of worthy charitible and community based groups: a set of ideals and traditions of community service they share with Flyers Charities, Snider Hockey, and the Flyers Wives.
Events such as the 50th Anniversary Alumni Game, Alumni Fantasy Hockey Camp and Alumni golf are fun for the Alumni and fans alike but they also are important to raising money to continue giving back to the community.
The Flyers' 50th Anniversary season is a tapestry of history and tradition that everyone associated with the Flyers -- players, coaches, executives, other employees, and the Flyers' fan base and the community itself that has so loyally supported the franchise through the highs and lows of a half-century.
"I kind of feel like I retired at a good time to be coming into this," Briere said. "There's a lot of exciting things happening with the Flyers and I know that Brad Marsh and the Alumni have a lot of big things planned as well. It's going be fun to be on board.
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