(April 2: 4:00 AM EDT)
I am awaiting my day-of-game flight from Philly to DFW. It's a route, and two airports, with which I've become very familiar over the last nine years. I've been to the American Airlines Center in Dallas many times, including covering the 2018 NHL Draft for the Flyers' official website.
The gentleman sitting two seats to my right on my flight from Philly to Dallas could win a Ken Hitchcock lookalike contest (if such a contest were ever held). It's not the current Edmonton Oilers head coach, of course, but it's kind of apropos for this road trip that there is a doppelganger on this flight of the only person to have been head coach in Philly, Dallas and St. Louis.
Hitch had assistant and head coaching stints in Philly and two tenures as the Stars' head coach (including leading the team to its only lone Stanley Cup in franchise history). Before returning to the Stars last season, Hitchcock was behind the bench for the St. Lous Blues.
Whenever the Flyers play the Stars, I look forward to saying hello to former Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese, who has been the Stars' goalie coach since 2015-16. It's also nice to see former Flyers/Phantoms player Jim Montgomery, who is in his first season as the Dallas head coach.
Both are good guys. I know Reeser a little better than Monty. We keep in periodic contact, and he's an old friend and Toronto Maple Leafs teammate of Flyers Alumni Association president Brad Marsh, with whom I work closely in my "other" work as the Alumni's content manager.
I am Philly born and bred, but my wife is a native Texan. We have made our official residence in Texas since 2010 (although I spend most of hockey season in Voorhees and Philly covering the Flyers), which dovetailed into me doing some Stars coverage over the years in addition to my primary work covering the Flyers.
The Flyers always have and always will be the sports team of my heart. Doing work for the Flyers and Flyers Alumni are dreams come true for me. No other club in pro sports is in the same galaxy of personal rooting interest for me except the Philadelphia Phillies.
That said, I have come to follow the Stars as the Western Conference team that I personally pull for against any team except in their two games per season against Philly. For many years, I had admired the Detroit Red Wings (when they were in the West) because my all-time favorite player, Mark Howe, finished his NHL career in his hometown and then became a scout for the team. Over the years, I became a huge fan of Nicklas Lidström, too, because he was essentially a healthier and younger version Howie and sustained his brilliance for longer. Lidström retired in 2012 and, by then I was already watching every Stars game that did not conflict with the Flyers' schedule.
As a media member, I have been fortunate enough to deal primarily with the two best PR/ media access staffs in the NHL: the Flyers' and Stars. Both are extremely accommodating, friendly, approachable and responsive. That is why they are both perennial winners/contenders for the Professional Hockey Writers' Association's Dillman Award for the top PR staff in the Eastern and Western Conference. Quite frankly, I became spoiled to them over the years. That's not to say there are not other very fine staffs elsewhere. There are, but your mileage will vary.
If there was a Hall of Fame for hockey PR people, longtime Flyers publicist Joe Kadlec would have been a shoo-in inductee. To this day, he remains a fountain of knowledge -- Joe was like walking, talking hockey Google before the internet age. His legacy is virtually impossible to duplicate, and yet Zack Hill has forged one of his own.
I can honestly say that working daily alongside and/or in conjunction the Flyers' PR and content staffs -- Zack, Joe Siville, Brian Smith, first-season social media manager Brian Born, digital media manager Christine Mina, the TV and radio broadcasters, the game presentation folks, etc. -- is a pleasure. You never work a day in your life when you love what you do.
Thursday will be my first-ever trip to St. Louis; the city itself as well to the Enterprise Center (f/k/a The Kiel Center, the Savvis Center and Scottrade Center) in the downtown area. That should be interesting.