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Hockey Takes a Back Seat in Philly

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
With President Bush on the big screen, hockey suddenly didn't matter anymore, not to the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers or the thousands of fans at the First Union Center.

The start of the third period of the NHL exhibition game was delayed and then called off Thursday night as fans demanded to watch the President's speech to Congress instead of the game.

By the time Bush finished speaking 36 minutes later, the teams lined up at center ice to shake hands.

As a video flag waved on the screen, an announcement was made that the game was declared a 2-2 tie after two periods "out of respect for where the United States was headed in the near future."

The speech was about to begin as the intermission clock counted down the final minute in between the second and third periods. The scoreboard said that play was about to resume, and the speech could be seen in the outer concourses.

When the speech was taken off the screen, the 19,117 fans began to boo, before chanting in unison "Leave it on."

As the teams returned to the benches for the third period, the speech was restored to loud cheers.

The players from both teams were as interested in watching the address as the fans. Some kneeled along the side boards, next to the four game officials who straddled the center ice line.

Wherever the players were, all heads was looking up.

In the speech's most dramatic moments, the fans roared -- drowning out the applause that could be seen on the screen.

Spontaneous cheers of "USA! USA!" also rang out, and fans waved some flags.

But when Bush was speaking, the arena fell silent.

The biggest cheers from the crowd came when a widow of one the passengers, who helped thwart the terrorists' plan to crash a fourth airliner into another building, was singled out by the President. They cheered again when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was recognized by the President.

Fans even roared when New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki were shown -- almost unheard of for Philadelphia fans to salute New York.

"I think the magnitude of the situation certainly dictates the things that are going on right now," Rangers head coach Ron Low said after the game. "Hockey is the secondary thing at this point."

Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch agreed. "This is reality now. It's not something you see in a movie. It's part of our life now and there's no denying it or getting away from it. This is another example of that. But it won't be the last. There will be other things to come that will intrude upon our lives and certainly because of the importance of what's going on."

Following the speech, both coaches agreed that the game could not continue. "Both (Flyers coach) Bill (Barber) and myself said that risking an injury for something of a lot less magnitude than what had just happened on the screen wasn't worth it," noted Low. "So we said let's get out of here."

Left wingers Barrett Heisten and Mikael Samuelsson tallied the goals for the Rangers, who reamin unbeaten in three pre-season matches (2-0-1). Mark Recchi and Jesse Boulerice scored for the Flyers.
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