Spectrum memories: Holiday cheer/jeer

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 fourth in the series of Spectrum
Memories.

Much like the third installment in this series, my second batch of December
recollections centers not around game attendance at the Spectrum, but on home and away games watched on television.

For the majority of my childhood, the Flyers would head out West after
Christmas and stay there through New Years’ — which often meant turning the
TV on and keeping the sound down in the middle of the night so as not to
disturb my parents in the next room.

That made the final game before the holiday special viewing, because in most
years it coincided with the night of my last day in school before break. When
that final game occurred on a weekend or the 23rd of December, it definitely
had a way of influencing how I felt on Christmas Day.

December 23, 1986 – Buffalo 2, Flyers 1 in Buffalo: Talk about a serious
letdown. In their three previous games, the Flyers scored 9, 6, and 7 goals in
wins over the Islanders, Penguins and Blues. But Tom Barrasso wasn’t going to
let that happen at the Aud on this night. He stopped 29-of-30 shots with just
a Scott Mellanby first-period score getting through.

Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well…the Sabres were dead last in the NHL and
the Flyers were tops in the league at that point. Buffalo’s head coach was Ted
Sator, a former Flyers assistant who had led the Rangers to a huge upset
playoff series win the previous Spring over Philly. I just got over missing a
week of school with the flu, and they’d go on to lose three more games before
the dawn of 1987. Booooo!!!

December 23, 1988 – Flyers 5, Hartford 4 at the Spectrum: Nobody wants to lose to the Whalers. Nobody wants to blow a two-goal third-period lead and possibly lose to the Whalers on home ice. But that’s almost what Paul Holmgren’s club did.

Thanks to Mike Bullard, the Flyers escaped that fate when he tallied with 47
seconds left in the third period. I remember being at a friend’s house up the
road watching this, and hitting my head on the ceiling in his room because I
was somehow watching the game on the top bunk and jumped up when the winning goal was scored.

December 23, 1990 – Montreal 4, Flyers 4 at the Spectrum: Is it possible for a
12-year-old to tear his hair out in a fit of insanity? The short answer is no,
but not for lack of trying.

You’d expect a four-goal first-period lead to hold up. If Tony Horacek is
on the board, you’d think it was one of those wierdo games that will
go in your team’s favor. You’d think that if your goaltender comes up with 50
saves it must be a pretty good night.

WRONG.

Denis Savard scored twice and Russ Courtnall tied the game with under five
minutes left in regulation. I seem to remember Murray Craven missing a penalty
shot in there somewhere. Anyway, this was a game that, for diehards, puts you
off food for 24 hours after watching — even a growing boy like myself.

December 23, 1994 – No game due to the NHL lockout: Empty. Just a gnawing,
queasy, hollow feeling that I was robbed of the chance to stay up until 1:30
am watching a game in Los Angeles. Certain owners, including Ed Snider, were
trying to get the league back on track, but it wasn’t nearly good enough.

No hockey = no happiness. One day later the Eagles giving up six points in
three seconds to the Bengals drove the final nail into the coffin. The Flyers
weren’t back until late January and I don’t remember a thing about that vacation.