Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Great Teams I have Loved -- The Legion of Doom Flyers

Except for now, the Flyers have been in Stanley Cup contention for almost their entire existence. They won a cup in the mid 70's, and were in the finals in '80, and again in '85 and '87 under Mike Keenan, then hit a dry spell.

What I remember about the Keenan Flyers is:

  • The seventh grade girls in our class were ga-ga over young Flyers like Peter Zezel and Rick Tocchet.
  • They made the '85 finals with rookie Pelle Lindbergh in net, then he died in a car accident, then were back two years later with rookie Ron Hextall in net.
  • Nobody ever really thought the Flyers had a chance in either series against the Gretzky-Messier Oilers. I do remember that the '87 Flyers won Game 5 against Edmonton, ticking off the Oilers because it meant they had to fly to Philadelphia again for Game 6, then back home to Edmonton. Hextall won the Conn Smythe Award depite playing for the losing team.

In any case, Keenan wore out his welcome, as he would do in increasingly shorter times as his career progressed, and the team fell apart.

Then, Eric Lindros came out. He was supposed to have the skill of Gretzky and Lemieux, with a mean streak. The Quebec Nordiques had the first pick, but Lindros didn't want to go there. (It's interesting how we didn't see the writing on the wall here. Philly fans would throw batteries at J.D. Drew years later for pulling the exact same stunt. I guess John Elway managed to pull this stunt and have a championshop career, but the rest -- Lindros, Drew, Eli Manning -- have so far fallen short of expectations, in part due to lack of passion). The Flyers thought they had a trade settled with Quebec, but then another trade was announced with the Rangers. An arbiter determined that the Flyers' trade was valid.

We rejoiced -- we got the big guy! In addition to the irony of this combined with our later disgust with Drew, this turned out to be a great trade for.. Quebec, who would shortly move to Denver, become the Avalanche, and win a Stanley Cup with the booty from this trade -- notably Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, and a 1st round selection they traded for Patick Roy.

But never mind that -- we had the Next Big Thing. My father, whom I don't remember being a particularly rabid hockey fan, bough partial season tickets for the Flyers Lindros's rookie year, but there wasn't much success yet.

The team came together when the Flyers made another trade -- the Candiennes had won the Cup the previous year, and the Flyers traded Mark Recchi to them for two young players -- Eric Desjardins who would anchor the Flyers' defense for a decade, and John LeClair. who would team with Lindros and Mickael Renberg to form the Legion of Doom line.

In the strike-shortened 1995 season, the Flyers got all the way to the conference championship, but lost to the eventual champion New Jersey Devils, who would prove to be their nemesis. Lindros won the Hart Trophy that year, and gave a tear-filled speech promising he would lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup.

It never happened. The Flyers went through a host of coaches and golaies, never quite finding the right mix. The one year they made the finals, 1997, they switched goalies twice. They never seemed to have a decent second line; they couldn't find anyone to play with the great Rod Bind'A'mour (whom I was delighted to see captain the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup last year), and they never had a great "quarterback"-type defenseman. Renberg got hurt, and none of his replacements quite stuck.

As the years went on, Lindros collected concussions, and his relationship with GM Bobby Clarke became strained because Lindros was not Bobby Clarke. Things came to a head in the 2000 season when Lindros was stripped of his captaincy, then came back in the conference championships against the Devils again, and suffered a gruesome hit that ended his time with the Flyers.

So why did I love this team?

For one, the late 1990's was the era of the trap and the left wing lock. The Flyers didn't play that way -- they skated.

Second, few things were as exciting as when Lindros got the puck behind his own net and charged down the ice with the puck. He was an exciting, inspirational player, and it's beyond unfortunate that his career was shortened.

Third, the crowds were unbelievable. Philly is a hockey town, and we loved watching this team. And even though they were kind of the Yankees of the NHL, they played a tough style, which we ate up.

Unfortunately, it didn't come together immediately, and management ended up going for a variety of free agant quick fixes -- Dale Hawerchuk, Paul Coffey, John Vanbiesbrouck, Jeremy Roenick, and finally re-acquiring Forsberg -- that didn't quite work out. Brind'A'mour was traded for Keith Primeau, who succeeded Lindros ably as captain, but wasn't the same type of scorer. Then the lockout hit, the rules changed favoring quickness over size, and not the Flyers occupy the basement and are rebuilding.

But it was a fun ride.


Keifus said...

I'm more enamoured by the shitty teams I've loved. Builds character or something.

I've mentioned the pre-1999 Patriots maybe? Any fans of the late, (un)great(ful) Hartford Whalers?

But I need someone who's a better sports dude than me to get the point across.

K (maybe someone from Cleveland)

JohnMcG said...

I'll admit it I'm a front-runner. I don't get into the whole Cubs fan lovable loser thing. Gimme a winner. If my team isn't competitive (like say, the Blues last year) I lose interest.

Following sports is supposed to be fun. Losing isn't fun.

twiffer said...

yes, following sports should be fun. there's a catch-22 though. if you don't support your local team, in the hopes they decide to improve and start winning, the owner will just move 'em instead, to a "better market". for instance, the whalers, who now reside in the hockey hotbed of raleigh, nc.

the same argument can be made for the expos. when they were playing well, people went to see them. but instead of improving the team, they moved it to dc where people are happy enough to have a ballclub again, they don't care if they suck or not. for now, at least.

and, of course, if you do stick with your team through adversity, idiot sportswriters declare you part of a fan base that enjoys losing: tortured red sox fan, cubs as lovable losers, and so on.

rundeep said...

I loved Hextall. Big crazy, goal-scoring goalie. And remember that Canada Dry ad he did? One of the few widely disseminated hockey-player ads.

I saw a playoff game with Lindbergh in goal from the cheapest seats in the Spectrum, and I remember the smell today. Sweat and beer and screaming. I was dating a hockey coach at the time and the smell was from him. Didn't last long after that, though I remember liking the view from the cheap seats (you can see the 3 on 2s forming really quickly).

Anyway, John, I'm going to be in St. Louis for a wedding in March. What's a good restaurant for a Friday night bite? Not too formal, not too casual?

JohnMcG said...

Drop me a note at [johnmcg] at gmail with what area you'll be in and I'll try to help out.