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Going to the Wachovia

Friday, March 21, 2008

I absolutely love going to hockey games.  The ability to see the entire ice, experiencing the atmosphere in the building, witnessing the action up close, getting swept up in the crowd’s momentum.  Nothing surpasses the passion of hockey fans.

While I love everything about a live game, I find myself sitting here almost dreading what could happen tonight.  This game is crucial on so many levels.  With the playoffs on the line, an intense rivalry, the recent struggles of the Flyers, and the poor home record – it all adds up to a sense of impending doom.  I’ve seen so many heart-wrenching losses like the 3.7 second debaucle with the Panthers or the Derek Roy “too many men” goal that part of me expects yet another disappointment.  A woman behind me at a recent game lost it, ranting in a heavy South Philly accent for half the third period about the team’s inability to play decent hockey, to win games at home, or do anything worth paying the ticket price to see.

That’s when the name Denis Gauthier popped into my head.  Most Flyers fans would like to erase season, forget it even occurred.  We all knew the year was lost well before the Red Wings came to town in February 2007, and no one wanted to enter the building, including the players themselves.  But that night, which started with a ceremony to honor Keith Primeau, featured an iconic moment that got buried along with the season.

I don’t remember which Flyers received the initial questionable hit, though I think it may have been Simon Gagne.  But I do remember watching from the opposite corner as Denis Gauthier barreled towards the offending Red Wing, gloves off and fists flying.  Gauthier’s decision to stand up for a teammate seemed to shift the entire game, giving a desperately needed spark to the Flyers which propelled them to a 6-1 victory over a team that was challenging Buffalo for the President’s Trophy.  The AP release on the game didn’t even mention the moment, preferring instead to rehash the Forsberg negotiations and the team’s loss of Keith Primeau.  But I recall thinking at the time that Gauthier’s actions somehow signalled a light in the distance, the potential for this team to be reforged.

It was a miracle moment.  The kind that changes a game and sticks with you long after the crowds depart, the lights go down, and the players are traded to other cities or bounced down to the AHL.

I’m not prescient.  I don’t know whether the Flyers will turn the corner against the Rangers tonight or come one step closer to watching the playoffs slip through their fingers.  I do know, however, that I could see a miracle moment again.  That instance where a player makes a choice that drastically impacts his entire team.  I guess that’s why I keep returning, despite the cost of tickets or the seemingly endless string of disappointments.

I’ll be at tonight’s game and hope to have a postgame up later.  Go Flyers!

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