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Flyers alumni play street hockey on Navy ship

Kimmo Timonen, others take on sailors aboard USS John P. Murtha

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

PHILADELPHIA -- Former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen has done lots of things to get ready for a hockey game.

Climbing into the pilot seat of an MV-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor military aircraft, was something very different.

Timonen was part of a team of Flyers alumni who played a street hockey game on the flight deck of the USS John P. Murtha, the United States Navy's newest ship, on Friday.

The Flyers alums defeated a team of sailors from the Murtha 6-4, but the result wasn't as significant as the retired players being aboard the ship.

"Everybody does so much for the military," Flyers alumni association president Brad Marsh said. "But when you can come on and just talk to the average military person. … We'd rather do something like this then a presentation of some sort. Let's just get down and have some fun."

Tweet from @NHLAdamK: Flyers alums beat USS Murtha sailors 6-4 but looks like everybody had fun

During 16 NHL seasons, including seven with the Flyers, Timonen played in the NHL Winter Classic twice, at Fenway Park in Boston in 2010 and at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia in 2012. He's also played in the Olympics and in the Stanley Cup Final twice. But he said he's never done anything as unique as play hockey on the flight deck of a navy ship.

"That's why I wanted to come here," he said. "When I got the email and had a chance to come here and see the boat, I never been on this kind of boat before. It's an experience I wanted to be part of. It's cool to see these people and play some hockey. To me it's cool to see how everything works and how massive this boat is, how they organize everything."

Timonen had a year of compulsory military service in his native Finland, but seeing the work done by the sailors on the Murtha was nothing compared to what he went through.

"Because hockey is so big in Finland, we had to go to the army but we were able to get out every morning, get back at night," he said. "We did some army experiences, but I can't really say I was in the army. Those people when they go through that year, they do …

"I sat in the pilot seat [of the Osprey on Friday] and I said to the pilot, if I wanted to be a pilot what did I have to do. He said first you have to be a helicopter pilot and then you have to be a normal airplane pilot and then you throw everything out the window and come here because you need to do both here. It's 3-5 years non-stop training. That's kind of cool."

Tweet from @NHLAdamK: Captain Kevin Parker of the USS John P. Murtha presents Flyers alumni president Brad Marsh with a good luck charm

The Murtha will receive its official commission during a ceremony Saturday, so a chance to play some hockey Friday was a welcome diversion for the sailors.

"[The commissioning ceremony] is our Stanley Cup of events," public affairs officer Timothy Wilson said. "Having an event like this really means a lot, that the city of Philadelphia and the Flyers are coming out to support us."

Marsh said the game came about through a conversation he had with Sherri Jones, the public affairs director of the Philadelphia Commissioning Committee.

"Through conversations we said, 'let's play a road hockey game,'" Marsh said. "That's part of all our childhood, playing road hockey. With a big deck like this, it just made sense to bring all our Flyers stuff and play."

Jones, who is a retired navy petty officer, said she believed the Flyers were the first professional team to play a street hockey game on the deck of a ship.

"I served in the navy so to see the sailors and marines get a chance to do something that you dream about, to get out there and play with a professional anything, that was the best part," she said. "This is the highlight. This they'll talk about, this they'll remember. It's not just their first ship now, it's their first ship with a sports team and some of their heroes."

Among the sailors enjoying the day was Petty Officer 3rd Class Dave Berardino, who is a Boston native and fan of the Boston Bruins, but he had no problem pulling on an orange Flyers T-shirt after the game. 

"Being a hockey fan, just to see all these guys that were in the professional ranks, it's a great experience all around," he said.

Besides Marsh and Timonen, other Flyers alums playing were goaltenders Neil Little and Brian Boucher, defensemen Joe Watson, Jimmy Watson, Doug Crossman and Terry Carkner, and forwards Bob Kelly, Todd Fedoruk and Bill Clement.

Tweet from @NHLAdamK: Todd Fedoruk and Brad Marsh with the special good luck coin given to the Flyers alums by Capt. Parker of the Murtha

"Anything that we can do to lighten the load for them or let them blow off some steam is great for us," Boucher said. "Makes us feel good. For them, obviously they've got tough days ahead, and tough days behind them. But for them to let their hair down for a little bit, have some fun, it's a great thing."

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