Five decades of Flyers hockey hit the ice on Saturday night at a packed Wells Fargo Center to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins alumni. And while age may have stolen some of their physical ability, it didn’t take either team’s competitiveness.
“It’s always like that, it’s always like that against Pittsburgh,” said Simon Gagne, who played over a decade with the Flyers before retiring after the 2014-15 season. “Even if it’s not a real game, it’s nothing different.”
Although the eventual 3-3 tie was about celebrating the 50th anniversary of joining the NHL for both the Flyers and Penguins, the conclusion felt similar to more recent rivalry games.
As the older alumni like Brian Propp and Mark Howe logged equal ice time late in the third period, the Penguins more recently retired NHL players -- Colby Armstrong, Ryan Malone and Tyler Kennedy, began to double shift.
“Well you got to shorten the bench there a little bit and add a little speed,” joked Penguins coach Eddie Johnston, who originally had Bryan Trottier with Kennedy. “When we did that we had a couple of guys score big goals for us.”
With four minutes remaining and trailing, 3-2, Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy, who played 50 games with the New Jersey Devils last season, zipped into the zone and down the right side before ripping a full-throttle, short-side wrister that snapped past Brian Boucher to tie the game at three.
“You could see Kennedy turning on the jets there,” said Flyers forward Eric Lindros. “It was fun to watch.”
Kennedy clearly wasn’t holding back.
“I saw an opening and just tried to shoot as hard as I can,” he said.
"It's always nice to get a win in their building."
Meanwhile, Boucher was lamenting the goal.
“He played the whole third period,” he laughed. “[Kennedy] looked great, what can I say. It was a great shot, it was a bad goal but a great shot, if that makes any sense.”
Despite a late flurry from the Legion of Doom line that had fans standing and Lindros frustrated, the game ended in a justified tie. The Flyers received goals from Dave Brown, Danny Briere and Eric Desjardins, while Malone scored the opening two goals for the Pens.
“You figured it would work its way to a tempo that was competitive and it did in the last five minutes,” Boucher said. “It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it would have been nice to win but ultimately it was a good night.”
Still got it
While it may have been odd to see Kennedy go full speed in an alumni game, the Flyers most recent NHL line of Gagne, Danny Briere and Todd Fedoruk weren’t holding back much either.
“We were trying,” Gagne said. “Especially in front of our fans.”
Less than two minutes into the second period, Gagne found Briere at the right circle. The diminutive forward retired following the 2014-15 but you wouldn’t know it as he cut to the net and beat J.S. Aubin with a top-shelf backhander to make it 2-0.
"Living the dream for one more day," Briere said. "That’s what it was. The morning skate, hanging out with the guys, hearing stories, playing in front of almost twenty thousand people. The whole thing was just amazing from beginning to the end.”
When asked if his smart back-check game has caused him to re-think retirement, Gagne laughed and dedicated credit to his linemates.
“Maybe, maybe,” he joked. “It’s been two years. I had a blast, it was fun. I had a chance to play with Danny and Fridge -- two young retired guys, so that helped.”
Reuniting the Legion
The main attraction on Saturday was the Legion of Doom. The 90’s trio quickly recaptured the magic, and like old times, dazzled in the offensive zone and cycled the puck with ease.
Renberg was stuffed on a breakaway late in the first period and LeClair had the game-winner on his stick late in the third, but was turned away by an impressive Jocelyn Thibault. The line went scoreless.
“We had a number of chances,” Lindros said. “Today it didn’t go for us but we had a lot of fun doing our best. We wanted to do it for the sellout group.”
Still, the chemistry was there.
“He’s a turner, he’s a spinner and he can come off the boards,” Lindros said of Renberg. “I was trying to find these guys in good positions because I know Johnny is always going to the net.”
Despite failing to get on the score sheet, Lindros cherished the opportunity.
“We all seemed to go our own way in life and we all come from different parts of the world,” he said. “Reny’s in Sweden, Johnny is down here and I’m in Toronto. I’m pretty happy to come out here and play hockey. It’s the best.”
Clarke, Barber retiring… again
After decades of participation, Bobby Clarke is ready to hang up his alumni skates.
“I think I have been here for 50 years,” said Clarke, who centered the legendary “LCB” line which features Reggie Leach and Bill Barber. “There are new alumni coming every seven or eight years. If you were bad today, the next celebration would be worse. I don’t think there’s any use in pushing it. I was really, really appreciative to be back with the fans, it was just incredible.”
Barber supports his linemate's decision.
“We’re the older group, we’re all in our mid 60’s plus, so it’s hard on us," he said. "But I wouldn’t have changed anything. I would have played with one leg to be honest with you. To have the opportunity to be out there for our fans, we have the greatest fans in the world. It was a real pleasure to play here in Philly in front of a crowd like that.”
If it was Clarke's last, he went out on a high note. The captain, who was selected first star of the game, appreciated the large crowd.
“I think it’s the only city in the league that would do that, on the hockey scene at least,” he said. “They pay to come out. I mean, there are still some good players to watch like Lindros, LeClair and Briere. Those guys are still pretty good players, but there are a lot of us that aren’t. It was really fun though, it really was.”