On March 27, the Flyers Alumni Team will take on the Flyers Warriors "A" and "B" squads in a doubleheader at the IceWorks complex in Aston. The event is dubbed the Flyers Alumni vs. Flyers Warriors Showcase.
All proceeds will benefit Flyers Warriors hockey, which provides access to hockey and a supportive team environment, on and off the ice, for U.S. military veterans with certified disabilities. Founded on Dec. 2, 2018, the Philadelphia Warriors were adopted by the Flyers and officially took on the name "Flyers Warriors" on Feb. 19, 2019. The Flyers Warriors are also affiliated with the USA Hockey Warriors program.
In barely over a year, the Flyers Warriors have grown from one roster of players, to full "A" team (more experienced players) and "B" team rosters, with a third squad recently created. From the get-go, a close relationship has developed between the Flyers Warriors and the Flyers Alumni.
"The Flyers organization, and especially the Flyers Alumni, have been incredible," said Flyers Warriors player Ed McEvoy. "Time after time, they've gone the extra mile to support our program and our team. For us, it's going to be a dream come true to step on the same ice and play against the Flyers Alumni Team at the Showcase. We're having a lot of fun chirping each other, since that's just part of hockey, but it goes without saying that these guys are heroes of ours."
Brad Marsh, the Flyers' director of community development and the president of the Flyers Alumni Association, serves as the Flyers' Warriors head coach. Rob Baer, the Flyers' director of amateur and youth hockey programs, is an assistant coach along with two-time Stanley Cup winning Flyers Alum and Ambassador of Hockey, Bob "the Hound" Kelly.
"Working with the Warriors has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done," Marsh said. "There's the on-ice part of it, seeing them come together as a winning team and improving as players. Then there's the off-ice part of it, getting to know the players as human beings, learning about their experiences and challenges. We've all become an extended family."
Coached by Marsh and Baer, the Flyers Warriors won the lower division championship at the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic in Las Vegas this past October. Several days later, at a ceremony held in City Hall, the City of Philadelphia presented an official Citation in honor of the Flyers Warriors championship. Meanwhile, throughout the year, Flyers Alumni players, including the likes of John LeClair and Kerry Huffman, periodically served as guest instructors at Flyers Warriors practices.
"That's been pretty surreal," McEvoy said. "We had a practice at the Wells Fargo Center, where John LeClair coached us on shooting the puck. On Military Appreciation Night, the current Flyers players gave us their warmup jerseys in the hallway right outside the locker room. That was stuff we never could have anticipated when we started the Warriors."
The most valuable aspect of Flyers Warriors hockey, however, takes place off the ice. Participation in the program has given military veterans from every branch a support system in one another, as well as resources to meeting the challenges that arise on daily life for many who return to civilian life after active-duty military service. The men and women of the Flyers Warriors -- and their families -- have become inseperable, even as the family has expanded with new members being welcomed.
The purpose of the Flyers Alumni vs. Flyers Warriors Showcase is to raise both funds and awareness for the Warriors program.
"We like to joke that we're going to go wide on Marshy when we get him one-on-one, and that we don't have to worry about him scoring against us, since he has no scoring touch at all. Brad always chuckles about it, because he knows that he means the world to us," said McEvoy.
During the Flyers Warriors team Christmas party in December, which was held at Marsh's house, the players presented their coach with a special surprise: they had all chipped in together and commissioned an engraved silver stick to commemorate his 1,086 games played in the NHL. Players of Marsh's era did not receive such a momento from the NHL itself. The gift moved the normally even-keeled Marsh to tears.
"I was genuinely surprised, and very, very moved," Marsh said.
Of course, Marsh's closeness with the Warriors makes him want to beat them even more when he dons the Flyers Alumni team jersey to play the Warriors on the 27th.
"I'd never hear the end of it from those guys -- or from Joe Watson -- if the old NHL guys lose to the Warriors. So you'd better believe we're going to win, and win big."
In addition to Marsh and Joe Watson, the Flyers Alumni's Showcase includes Chris Therien, Nick Schultz, John Druce, Riley Cote, Todd Fedoruk, Jim Watson, Jesse Boulerice, Adam Hall and goaltender Rob Zepp. There may also be a surprise addition or two.
Tickets start at just $20 for general admission. VIP tickets include a private enclosed viewing area for the game and a postgame meet-and-greet reception with the Flyers Alumni.