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Flyers alumni team article


Guest EDI-Flyer
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Nice article on Philly.com about the Flyers alumni team.

http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/flyers/20130301_HED_TOO_LONG___Ice_aged__Orange-and-black_alum_still_have_some_Flyer_i.html

Joe Watson is the first to arrive. He always is. He sets his bag down, strips out of his civvies and tugs on his uniform, just as he did when he played for the Stanley Cup-winning "Broad Street Bullies." Nearing his 70th birthday, Watson yanks up his socks, steps into his hockey pants and straps on his shoulder pads. With 2 hours to go until faceoff, he sits by his locker with his jersey off. Nearby is a cooler full of iced-down cans of beer.

One by one, his teammates for the evening swing through the dressing-room door, bags in hand. Bob "The Hound" Kelly greets Watson and settles in at the locker next to him. At his heels stride Ray Allison, Mitch Lamoureux and Brian Propp. Larry Goodenough walks in his younger brother, Pat, who had driven with a friend from Toronto. Larry and Pat had never played on the same team together. As the players become reacquainted, shaking hands and slapping backs, the small dressing room at the Bucks County Ice Sports Center in Warminster grows noisy with laughter.

On this Saturday in January, just before the NFL settled its labor impasse, the Flyers Alumni Team was the only hockey game in the Philadelphia area. In only the second game of their short schedule, the alumni had come this evening to play a team of house amateurs, by and large a group of younger players with younger legs. By the looks of them, it would appear as if they had an edge on Watson and his guys in terms of conditioning, especially since the Flyers alumni do not hold practices. They just show up and play. With a grin across his friendly face, Watson explains his strategy.

"What we do is force them to chase the puck," says Watson, who is less a player-coach than an organizer of the team. "By the second period, they usually run out of gas."

Center Mitch Lamoureux says: "Our strategy? Let them get exhausted and take advantage of them. It always works. They may have the legs, but not the hockey sense. We know what to do when the puck comes to us and where everybody is. And we know how to play off each other."

Allison adds, "Our goal is simple: 'Get the lead quick and just go from there.' "

The Flyers Alumni Team is sort of like the Harlem Globetrotters. They never lose - or, shall we say, they seldom lose. Since their inception in 1984, they have been on the losing end of only a handful of games. In addition to playing local amateur squads, the alumni team has played in Europe "seven or eight times," according to Watson, and has squared off against some of their old NHL rivals. Overall, they play eight to 10 exhibitions a year. Unless they are provoked - and they say it happens occasionally - the Flyers no longer engage in the type of sharp-elbow play that had once had been their calling card. They play now for the sheer fun of it.

And for charity.

Their game at Bucks County Ice Sports Center was for the benefit of cancer research. Although the Flyers charge a fee to appear, part of which is distributed among the players, proceeds from ticket sales are earmarked for whatever charity has been selected for a particular game. Watson says that last year, the alumni team generated $167,000 on behalf of various charities.

"Overall," Watson says, "we have probably raised $2.5 million for charity."

According to Watson, the cozy, 500-seat arena is sold out. Orange-and-black jerseys pour through the front doors.

"I love it when the building is full, especially since we are playing for charity," says Propp, once a star left winger for the Flyers. "Everywhere we go, we get a crowd. And just have a chance to be out on the ice with some of the guys is always fun."

Lamoureux agrees. Generally, it is fun.

"Unless the other team wants to get serious," says Lamoureux, who played with the Flyers and Penguins. "We never get serious unless they do."

And then?

"And then it is not pretty," he says. "For them."

Has that ever happened?

Lamoureux turned to Watson at the adjoining locker. He asked him, "Has that ever happened?"

Watson grins and replies, "Yeah."

Lamoureux smiles. "I just wanted to give you the politically correct answer," he says. "Everything is good until somebody gets stupid out there and pretends he is a hockey player."

Watson calls out, "Seven minutes till, boys."

With faceoff near, the players leave the locker room and hit the ice, gliding in circles to loosen up. The local team does the same at the opposite end. Someone sings the national anthem; the sides position themselves at center ice for the faceoff, and the referee drops the puck. Watson, Kelly, Allison, Goodenough and Lamoureux do not wear helmets; few players did back when they played. Beyond that, no one expects the level of intensity to lead to the removal of any teeth.

Surprisingly, the local amateurs score the first goal, which immediately wakes up the Flyers alumni. In keeping with their strategy, they spread the puck out and move it among one another with some precision passing. They score. And then score again. And again. By end of the first period, the Flyers are up, 4-1. As Watson had predicted, their opponents appear as if they could use some oxygen.

Second period: Once again, the local amateurs score the first goal, cutting the alumni lead to 4-2. But the Flyers buckle down and begin peppering shots by the opposing goaltender, Scott Shaw. When their lead expanded to 8-2, the scorekeeper stopped displaying any additional alumni goals. The score remained 8-2 when the Flyers scored their ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th goals. And it stayed 8-2 even after the local amateurs scored their third and final goal. Someone in the crowd yelled, "Come on! I want to see a fistfight." But at that point, the alumni were feeling more generous than rowdy.

Lamoureux even took a shot at his own goal. It hit the pads of his goaltender and bounced back, at which point an opposing player with longish hair played it and fired it back on goal.

Lamoureux explained: "I was trying to set her up and give her an opportunity to score off the rebound."

Her?

Yes, the local amateurs had a woman playing for them: Mary Gibson-Merenich, a youth-hockey coach. Even in the wake of a 15-3 loss, Gibson-Merenich says it was "a blast just to be on the ice with these guys." She adds that she appreciated Lamoureux's gesture.

"He was just so gracious in doing what he did," says Gibson-Merenich, who was furnished with a separate locker room to dress. "It was as if he were saying, 'This is not all about us.' "

In the locker room where her male teammates dressed, there is a palpable air of utter exhaustion. Not only had the alumni team forced the amateurs to chase the puck, they had forced them to chase it to Hawaii and back. As they strip out of their uniforms, their faces red and dripping with sweat, the amateurs acknowledge that they were in far over their heads.

"One minute they were in front of you, the next minute they were gone," left winger Dominic Varacallo says.

Defenseman Matt Rambo adds: "Remember, these guys have played in the NHL. No matter how old they are, they can still play. They know where to go on the ice. They are always two steps ahead of you on the ice. This was a little different than playing in a beer league."

Shaw, the goaltender, just shakes his head.

"These guys are pros," he says. "That ability is still there. They still know how to play the game. They could be 65 and they would still know how to play the game."

Over in the alumni dressing room, someone had cracked open the ice chest and cans of beer began circulating. Watson announced there would be sandwiches upstairs. Told that the scorekeeper stopped displaying the actual score when it got to 8-2, Watson grins and says, "That normally happens. We did not come here to embarrass anybody."

"So," Watson asks, "what was the final score?"

Someone tells him: 15-3.

Kiddingly, someone else asks him whether anyone kept a stat sheet.

Watson laughs. "No," he says, "Oh, hell no."

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