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Thanksgiving Day Parade will be quite a ride for Parent, Richter

Cup-winning goalies for Flyers, Rangers pumped for holiday, Showdown between former teams

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Philadelphia Flyers legend Bernie Parent and New York Rangers icon Mike Richter will share a Manhattan ride aboard the Discover/NHL Frozen Fall Fun float in the 92nd Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday (9 a.m. ET, NBC).

The participation of the two retired goalies in a New York extravaganza that began in November 1924, this year themed "Let's Have a Parade," will trumpet the 2018 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown between the Flyers and Rangers at Wells Fargo Center on Friday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, NHL.TV).

Parent, 73, and Richter, 52, will have plenty to talk about along the 2.65-mile parade route through midtown Manhattan, waving to a crowd that organizers expect might reach 3.5 million, with 50 million more watching on TV throughout the U.S.

Parent, who won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and '75 for the Flyers, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy both times as the most valuable player of the postseason, recalls playing some of his best games against New York at Madison Square Garden.

Richter, a 1994 Cup champion with the Rangers, grew up in the Philadelphia area worshipping Parent, cutting class in 1974 as a 7-year-old - with siblings, classmates and parental permission - to attend the Flyers' first of two consecutive championship parades.

"I remember that first parade," Parent said, admitting with a grin that he didn't recall seeing Richter among the estimated two million fans along the route. "They didn't have barriers, so the crowd just came right up to our convertibles.

"Most of the cars were damaged, so the next year they put us up on floats. I rode up front in that one with Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia's mayor. I asked Frank why he kept looking up at the buildings and he said, 'I'm looking for snipers.' I looked at him and said, 'Really. Well, I made enough saves this year, you're on your own. I'm outta here.'"

Richter, who rode in the 87th Macy's parade in 2013 with Boston Bruins legend Cam Neely, lived and breathed those mid-1970s Flyers teams.

"I credit Bernie for getting me out of school for the 1974 parade," said Richter, who admitted he's excited to ride with his boyhood idol. "People were hanging off the lamp posts, it was just craziness. You couldn't believe the mayhem.

"I didn't collect hockey cards back then. I had stamps we'd get at the local grocery market. You'd try to collect them all for your little stamp book. I'd cut out newspaper articles and glue them in notebooks. Look at my copy-books from school and every third page was a picture of Bernie's pads or his mask, or a drawing I'd done of him making a save.

"As kids, my brother and I attended Bernie's goaltending camp in Voorhees (New Jersey). In art class, the teacher would say, 'Today we're going to work with gumdrops,' and I'd make Bernie Parent out of gumdrops, gluing them together."

New Yorkers have never had a soft spot for athletes representing Philadelphia, no matter the sport. But this is Thanksgiving, Parent reasons, the unofficial start to the holiday season, and he says he's long enjoyed a special relationship with the city where the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s were viewed as a circus act on skates.

"I think people like me in New York," said Parent, whose career from 1965-79 saw him play 486 of his 608 NHL games with the Flyers, having begun with the Boston Bruins in 1965-66 with a season and a half spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs. spanning 1970-71 into 1971-72.

"I wasn't a fighter, I was a goaltender. They respected me at the Garden. They're the main reason I think I played some of my best games in New York. I loved the crowd, the way they reacted. When you have a crowd that is that intense, it brings you up to a different level and makes you play better."

Richter, who played his entire career from 1989-90 to 2002-03 with the Rangers, can close his eyes and bring back in the finest detail New York's 1994 parade after they ended 54-year Stanley Cup drought.

He recalls buses packed with the players and families pulling out of the Garden, headed to the start of the parade route, and seeing scores of workers from the colossal post-office building across the street spontaneously lined up to salute.

"When we finally got on our floats, it seemed like any other parade," said Richter, who rode up front with captain Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch, Steve Larmer and the Stanley Cup.

"But then you could hear something. It sounded like a jet engine as we turned down the Canyon of Heroes. The amount of paper and confetti… it looked like something at the end of World War II, or the celebration for the Apollo 11 astronauts. This noise, the growl, it gave you chills. It seemed to me that people were 40 deep, on flagpoles, opening windows in skyscrapers, chucking paper. It was just crazy.

"It was humbling. We had a great relationship with the city. We knew it was meaningful for us, the organization and the town, but it was absolutely awe-inspiring. After 54 years, there was a lot of pent-up celebration. It's hard to describe how big and how incredible it was."

The 92nd Macy's parade, Richter and Parent admit, will have a different dynamic than a Stanley Cup celebration. But they're eager to fly their team's colors and share their memories during a festive three-hour ride that will feature a galaxy of entertainers, 16 giant character balloons, 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons, 26 floats, 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers, more than 1,000 clowns,12 marching bands and Santa Claus behind them all.

"I think they're bringing me in as a veteran of the 2013 Macy's parade so I can help Bernie with the finer points of the responsibilities," Richter said, laughing.

"There was always electricity when I played in New York," Parent said. "I love that town. To go back now for this parade, and wave to the crowd, well, I think it's going to be awesome."

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