Spectrum Memories: December weekend afternoons

To celebrate my 25th year of hockey fandom, I will occasionally step into the way-back machine and write about events in the Flyers’ past. For the balance of the season, I will be dipping into the well to ruminate about some things related to my love of the Philadelphia Flyers, and in general about the fan experience as a youngster. This is the third in the series of Spectrum Memories.

One of the statistical, or actually, calendrical oddities of having a Flyers single-season matinee ticket plan in the years my family did was that there never seemed to be any December weekend afternoon games.

Now that I look back on it, and after living in Boston and covering the Bruins at work (who still schedule at least 10 afternoon home games a year), I really feel cheated. That time of year, the Flyers would always load up on Saturday night and Sunday road games in the days before Christmas and their inevitable West Coast holiday road trip.

Given this quirk of fate, today I thought I’d recall some early December games that I didn’t attend, but which made an impression on me as a young TV viewer. I know it may be a cop out because they’re not necessarily home games, but you try to come up with pure gold each and every time out, OK?

December 3, 1985: Red Wings 4, Flyers 1: This was waaaay before the Wings won their four most recent Stanley Cups. In fact, it was so long ago that Steve Yzerman wasn’t even captain, the club was called the “Dead Things” nationally, and people without cable still had to wrestle with rabbit ears or something called a “Tenerotor” to get good reception.

That was the first year the Flyers were carried on Channel 57 after it went from the station on which you tried to view scrambled HBO porn, to the behemoth on the UHF dial that had Flyers hockey and Villanova basketball along with every Charles Bronson movie in existence.

Detroit won all of 17 games that year, and this was one of them. Coming in, the Flyers were 19-5-0 but lost to Winnipeg two days prior. Some rookie noob called Mark LaForest made his NHL debut for the Wings and just stoned the Flyers cold for 60 solid minutes.

Years later, my grandfather gave me a tape of this game (which I didn’t remember him telling me in the first place) and I wore it out in recent years trying to watch and recall what old-fashioned up-and-down 1980’s offensive hockey looked like.

I remember Tim Kerr standing in the slot unmoved..Peter Zezel going 1-on-5 and almost winning…Brad Marsh blatantly falling on the puck in play and rolling around like he had no clue where the disc was…and of course, Ron Duguay. Oh, and his magnificent hair, too, flashing in the wind as he glided up the right wing and beat Bob Froese with a 50-footer to give the Wings the lead for good at the end of the second period.

December 10, 1987: Flyers 5, Rangers 3: Again, in the days before we sprang for cable. This was the game after Ron Hextall scored his famous first goal, and in the middle of the Flyers’ 14-game unbeaten streak that got them out of the Patrick Division basement.

A rare treat, this was a home game broadcast on 57. All I remember is Gene Hart talking about Joe Paterson and how half the team wouldn’t go after him in a line brawl because he’d been a Flyer a couple seasons before.

I remember Nick Fotiu, a former Ranger at the end of his career, just skating around like a madman and going after people on the New York bench, on the ice and in the penalty box. I think he tried to strangle some Rangers guy after they were both sent off for matching minors.

Ahhhhh…the old-school mayhem I knew and loved. I think the Flyers won that one.

December 9, 1989: Flyers 6, Quebec 6: I swear this was one of the worst games I ever saw. In that era, Quebec was deader than the Dead Wings, winning just 12 games all season, but they managed a point because the Flyers snatched sister-kissing from the jaws of victory in the final minute of play.

Philly raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and almost coughed it up. The Orange and Black was up 6-4 with all of 23 seconds to play and blew it.

First, it was Joe Sakic who was in his second year but on his way to a 100-point season, scoring on a penalty shot after a rare delay of game penalty was called for dislodging the net on purpose. He scored against Ken Wregget to make it 6-5.

Then, after a dump-in off the ensuing faceoff, Wregget and some Flyers forward who shall forever remain nameless because of my disgust fouled up the exchange and Lucien DeBlois put the puck into an open net.

Puke.

December 7, 1995: Flyers 7, Sabres 3: Cable had long since arrived to the Homestead, and this gem happened during my senior year of high school on a night when there was some kind of dinner before an off-day during the week.

The Legion of Doom was having their usual romp with a three-goal first period and I was able to see it while home changing clothes to go to whatever event it was. By the time I was finished and coordinating rides and such, all the good will disappeared as LaFontaine happened.

He scored once, helped set up another, and the Sabres tacked on one more to tie the game 3-3 near the end of the second. The fans were howling, I was livid, and losing to Buffalo was definitely going to ruin whatever fun was to be had later.

Apparently, Anatoli Semenov and Craig MacTavish (really?) came to the rescue by teaming up on the go-ahead goal and Eric Lindros added one more to make it 5-3. It sure was a sweet feeling cranking the radio up to ear-split level on each score.

By the time I got back to a friend’s house, we had to wait long enough for other people that I was able to catch almost all of the third period. The Legion began to romp again, and I was threatened with having to wait outside when I yelled loudly both times that Pat Falloon (yeah!) scored to lock up a 7-3 victory.