By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—They were all at the stage where the mind was willing, but the body wasn’t. They all moved a little slower than we were used to seeing them, back in their prime, back to when we’d like to remember them best, zipping effortlessly up and down the ice.
So it seemed fitting that Eric Lindros came flying down the right side of the ice to feed John LeClair with the first goal of the Flyers-Rangers’ alumni game at Citizens Bank Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was a great flashback moment that Mark Recchi also assisted on the LeClair goal.
Mark Howe’s third-period goal topped a 3-1 Flyers’ victory. But the final score didn’t really matter. Not as much as watching living legends on the ice one more time, to see Bobby Clarke team with Bill Barber and Reggie Leach, to see Jimmy Watson and his 68-year-old brother Joe paired together one more time, and see Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent think he stepped out of a time machine, and believe for a fleeting minute that it’s 1974 again by the way he went sprawling across the crease to make a save.
It was also nice to see the camaraderie. After making a few saves that he’ll feel for days to come, Parent got a little tap on the helmet and was greeted with some laughs and smiles by a few Rangers.
Though they’re going to be feeling joints and muscles in the passing days that have gathered dust for some time now, they all seemed to have a blast.
As did the fans.
“This is amazing, I wanted to make sure I brought my grandkids with me,” said Bob Simms, who was accompanied by his 10-year-old grandson and 8-year-old granddaughter. “They have no idea what’s going on. But they’re having an amazing time. I told them these were the guys I grew up watching play, the players who introduced me to the game when the Flyers first came to Philly. Remember 30, 40 years ago, no one really knew that much about ice hockey. But when the Flyers started winning Stanley Cups in the mid-1970s, people in this area caught on fast.”
The alumni game was played with three 20-minute periods under a running clock, with 12-minute rest intervals between periods (some players wanted more).
The Flyers bolted ahead 2-0, after LeClair scored the first goal of the game followed by another from Shjon Podein. But again, that didn’t really matter, not to the 45,808 that packed Citizens Bank Park to see a hockey game in late-December.
Lindros, Parent and Clarke evoked the largest cheers. One of the more touching moments came when Parent came off the ice midway into the first period, a huge grin on his avuncular, grizzled face, the entire park stood and applauded the amicable legend, a tip of appreciation to those who knew him in his prime and to those who first saw him play in person Saturday.
“It was great to hear the fans,” Lindros said. “Hockey is a fun sport. And to be out there with Bobby Clarke, and Bernie Parent, shocking the world, there’s nothing better. It was great to be a part of this and have this opportunity.”
One of the classiest moments came early, when Ranger Ron Duguay, still somewhat of a target of Flyers’ fans, gently shot a puck right at Parent’s pads, making the 66-year-old look pretty good.
The Rangers’ Mark Messier still looked chiseled, with his jutting jaw, Duguay came with his flowing Sassoon locks, and Lindros and LeClair, both not that far removed from the NHL, still seemed to work with an unspoken synergy.
There wasn’t a moment when a player wasn’t smiling or laughing. They were truly enjoying the moment.
The score didn’t matter. Bringing back lusty memories of when you first fell in love with it did.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and there was a message behind this, it doesn’t matter what your age is, because this brings out your passion,” said Parent, who prepared for the event in 10 days. “You look around at all the people, and you hear the ovations and fans chanting your name, there is nothing better than that. But I know I’m going to be real sore tomorrow. I’m really sore right now. But it feels good.”