St. Louis (5:30 AM CDT)
Flyers left winger James van Riemsdyk said it best after last night's game.
"There is always something to play for. Play for your teammates. Some guys have contracts to play for.... The way we were tonight, it's never acceptable." He said of the team's performance in a 7-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues that was every bit as ugly as the score indicates.
For all the respect that veteran goaltender Brian Elliott commands in the locker room, his teammates owed him much better last night than to abandon him repeatedly. That would be true on any night, but especially in a game in St. Louis (where Elliott spent the best seasons of his career) in what could be the pending unrestricted free agent's final game as a Flyer.
The way the Flyers played last night in the first period, it didn't matter who was in goal: Brian Elliott, Carter Hart, opposing netminder Jordan Binnington, Carey Price or even Patrick Roy or Bernie Parent at the peak of their primes. Every one of those four goals against Elliott was unstoppable. Elliott was pulled for the sins of his teammates.
Hart played fine in relief of Elliott, and actually kept his keep in the game for quite awhile when the deficit was at 4-2. Among the three goals he gave up, one deflected off Ivan Provorov, one was a double-deflection that pinballed across the crease to Brayden Schenn for a slam dunk, and the final one was yet another own-zone breakdown and a virtually unstoppable backhanded finish to the top shelf.
Watching the debacle unfold, I couldn't help but think back to the feeling on opening night -- a road win over the defending Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights and the expectations that came into the campaign. It was extremely disappointing how much the season subsequently went off the rails until mid-January and then again when it got down to the heart of the stretch drive.
The team that takes the ice in Prague to open the 2019-20 regular season is likely to have significant changes to it. What happened in 2018-19, including a whopping 31 times where Philly had to chase games from a 2-0 deficit and an offense that was too often feast-or-famine (especially in the first half), was unacceptable for a proud franchise.
From a personal standpoint, the day and evening of the final road game of the season did have some highlights. Heather Lonsberry Kemp and daughter Brooklyn, the daughter and granddaughter of the late Ross Lonsberry, visited the press box during the second intermission through the kind last-moment permission of the Blues and the Enterprise Center security staff.
Heather and Brooklyn were warmly greeted by Paul Holmgren, Bill Clement and Steve Coates. All of them, of course, knew "Roscoe" well. They caught up a bit with Heather and reminisced about a couple of favorite stories from their days playing with Lonsberry, who was one of the most underrated Flyers forwards of the 1970s.
Earlier in the day, after the morning skate, one of the security guards at the arena command center recommended that we try the nearby Maggie O'Brien's Restaurant and Irish Pub on Market St. It was worth the trip, even in a steady rain. I would gladly return there again after a morning skate or after the game on a future trip to St. Louis.
I was also impressed by some of the pregame music selections at the Enterprise Center and by the stoppage-in-play crowd sing-a-longs interspersed periodically during the game. It was a fun atmosphere. Shortly before warmups started, they played Budgie's "Sky High Percentage" and some Stevie Ray Vaughn. The former in particular came as a very pleasant surprise.
Former Flyers goalie Rob Zepp is one of the relatively few semi-recent players with whom I've stayed in periodic touch after he left the team. Rob and I share similar music tastes. A few years ago, I sent him a YouTube link to Budgie's "Breadfan" (which was later covered quite well by Metallica) by way of introducing him to the sound of one of classic hard rock's most commercially obscure but artistically influential bands. He liked it instantly.
Hearing the Budgie tune last night made me think about Zepper. I will drop him a line over the summer. Hopefully, he is able to suit up for the Flyers Alumni Team in a game or two next season. This summer, Martin Biron will be a guest instructor at the Flyers Alumni Fantasy Camp in Atlantic City in August. That should be pretty cool too.
Right now, there isn't much left to do but pack, grab breakfast at the hotel and get ready to go to the airport for the return trip to Philly.
From a hockey standpoint, the games in Dallas and St. Louis were ones I'd prefer to forget. But in terms of personal experience (minus the incident after check-in at my hotel in St. Louis where my room was double-assigned and two people entered it), it was great. The best part is always the interactions both at and away from the rink.
If I had to do over, since practice in St. Louis was ultimately canceled on Wednesday, I'd have spent an extra day in Texas to be with my wife and kids and then come to St. Louis early yesterday morning. There was no way to know ahead of time, though.
The 2018-19 season ends tomorrow night for the Flyers. The five-month wait until training camp feels like an eternity.
At the same time, I cherish the summertime months for personal time. Besides, there is also the NHL Draft countdown, Development Camp, the start of free agency season and some Flyers Alumni events to look forward to.