Truly one of the greatest accomplishments that I've had in my life has been the privilege to have been a Philadelphia Flyer as a player and then as a radio and TV broadcaster. I've had the luxury of wearing many different hats over the years.
At present, I'm the all-time games played leader among Flyers defensemen (753 in the regular season plus an additional 99 in the playoffs). That's something for which I'm proud and feel very grateful to people such as Ed Snider, Bob Clarke, Paul Holmgren and my coaches for believing in me.
It will also give me enjoyment to someday see a current or future Flyers defenseman eventually eclipse my total and set a brand new record. Such things are good for the game and good for the team, as well as for the player himself.
Any player who plays a long time in the NHL will have many different great moments that they are able to relive later in life; whether it's a huge team win, their first or 500th goal, an overtime assist in a playoff clinching win, or whatever. It varies widely from one player another, and they are all great stories.
Sometimes the details fade in memory and only the moment itself remains crystal clear. "Hey, remember that night in Buffalo in the '97 playoffs when we scored that buzzer beater in the second period to cut the gap to 3-1. We came back to win the game in OT and the series? That was Game 5, right, the clincher?"
No, actually it was Game 1 of the series, and we won 5-3 in regulation. The buzzer-beater at 19:59.8 of the second period by Mikael Renberg, which cut our deficit to 3-2 heading into the third period, is the only detail on instant recall.
That's how it goes for a lot of those little moments that accumulate in a career. However, for virtually everyone who's ever played in the NHL, there is one memory that stands above all the others, and every little detail is remembered as if it just happened.
I'm referring to the player's NHL debut.
For me, it was January 21, 1995: the Flyers regular season opener of the lockout-shortened campaign. We were home at the Spectrum that afternoon, and played the Quebec Nordiques. Unfortunately, we lost the game, 3-1. Peter Forsberg, the Flyers 1991 first-round pick who had been traded two and-a-half years earlier to Quebec in the Eric Lindros blockbuster, was also making his NHL debut that night. With the score tied at 1-1 early in the third period, Forsberg set up Owen Nolan for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Despite the loss, that entire day was one of the best in my life up to that point. Knowing that I would be in the opening night roster and lineup for one of the most decorated franchises in the history of the League was a time of reflection for me as I drove that morning the roughly 20 minutes from Voorhees, NJ, to the Spectrum in South Philadelphia.
A flood of thoughts deluged my mind: a culmination of memories from minor hockey through college and Team Canada. Thoughts of all the sacrifices my parents made to assist me along the way. I remember talking to my father and mother as I drove across the Walt Whitman bridge and the stadium complex with the Vet and the Spectrum became visible.
This was the beginning of an all new journey for me in life and hockey. That was an incredible feeling. But it also marked the end of another journey: the one that got me to that point.
At the time, it was the defining moment of my life. Even to this day, it's absolutely one of the three greatest moments of my life, and the one from hockey that is just a little more special than the rest from a personal standpoint. I was so proud to put on my Flyers uniform and step out on the ice. It was an honor. It was humbling. It was emotional.
Opening night means a lot of things to different players.I hope that this is never lost on the new generation of talent and players. But it still seems in hockey that the first NHL game is just a little more celebrated that a first game for athletes in other sports. I've often wondered why it is such a celebrated event among virtually every hockey player.
I believe it has a lot to do with parental sacrifice. The things you realize they did without so that you could chase your dream of playing professional hockey. Those early morning drives to the rink. Sometimes it's mom and sometimes it's dad driving, but it's a family event. Brothers and sisters will often pile in the car with the family's hockey player and come along to freezing cold rinks.
For the young player, days and weekends are spent together building meaningful relationships with your teammates and learning how to become a great teammate. You learn to put the good of the team above personal goals, to have each other's backs, and to take responsibility for one another and accountability for yourself.
This, I think, is why a player's first game is so celebrated and why players look forward to the new chapter that every opening night begins. I know things have changed over the years in the sports climate that we live in today.
But I will say and I certainly hope that the vision, the dream and the drive for the accomplishment of making it to a professional sports league, once realized, is truly one of the greatest feelings of self-worth and resiliency that you can find within yourself. I'd have been proud to wear any NHL uniform but to break in, and spend the vast majority of my career, with the Philadelphia Flyers was the honor of a lifetime.
Two Flyers rookies just got that experience this week, as rookie forwards Carsen Twarynski and Connor Bunnaman learned they had made the team and would make their respective NHL debuts on opening night in Prague.
Twarynski's experience is especially cool, and it was filmed for posterity and inclusion in the "Behind the Glass" series on NHL Network. At the team hotel in Prague one day before opening night, Twarynski received a call from general manager Chuck Fletcher to come meet with him in the lobby as soon as possible.
"Go see the GM," is never something a player -- especially one who entered camp as a longshot to make the NHL team -- wants to hear. In almost every every case, it means the player is being sent to the minors, has just gotten traded or is in hot water for something or another.
In this case, though, Twarynski was summoned because his parents had made a surprise trip from their native Calgary halfway across the world to attend his NHL debut in person. The young forward also received congratulations from the GM.
Whatever else Carsen does in his NHL career, he will never forget this moment, and he'll never forget coming to the rink for his first NHL game. I am thrilled for him, and for Connor, because I know what a special time it really is; one that can never be quite duplicated again.
I hope that these guys -- and the others who are knocking on the door for their NHL debuts at some point in the near future -- will carry the memories of that day the same way I have for almost 25 years.