New Year’s Eve: A time for getting sloshed…and watching hockey

No holiday sends us scrambling for some semblance of a social life like the final day of any calendar year…as if scrounging up a date, finding some friend’s house to haunt at the last minute and thinking you’re going to find a last-second hook-up before the ball drops is going to convince any one of us of our true worth.

We of the faithful all know that true worth for the upcoming year is measured by whether or not your favorite hockey club wins or loses (RIP ties) on this final, final day.

Whether you’re enjoying a quiet night at home, forced to turn in early because of work in the morning, or living it up amongst the throngs of revelers, the Flyers have been there to ease the transition into another set of 365 days.

The actual “tradition” of New Year’s Eve Flyers hockey is only recent; it’s just been in the last 25 years you can ring out the old and bring in the new thanks to the late-night exploits of the Orange and Black playing on the West Coast.

Only twice before 1985 did the NHL happen to schedule Philadelphia on the night of all inebriated nights…a 1967 home rout of the Los Angeles Kings (9-1), and a 1977 loss to an inferior Blues team in St. Louis (3-2).

But starting 25 years ago tonight — with a date in Edmonton against the defending Stanley Cup champion Oilers — then effectively ending in 2001, your blurry memories have been played out in front of a TV screen showing the Flyers.

On December 31, 1985, all I can say is…Gretzky happened. Even before the talking heads began to beat catchphrases into the ground it was true that you didn’t stop 99, you only hoped to contain him – especially in years he goes for 215 points. Well, that night, not so much. A hat trick from The Greatest One got the Oilers past the Flyers, 4-3, at Northlands Coliseum.

Two years later, they lost in Calgary 5-4 on a power play goal with eight seconds left.

Then, there was a period where the league scheduled the Flyers to play in Buffalo (Buffalo?) which were wholly unmemorable. I know I watched them, but couldn’t tell you a thing about either one.

One year they played the Bruins in Minneapolis when the NHL pimped out every team for two neutral-site games a year. Again, drawing a total blank. I was 15 and well within my God-given teenage rights to be moody and weird.

I consider myself lucky to have come of age at a time when the New Year’s Eve tradition was in full swing, where there was a near-yearly guarantee of hockey action even if I did get any…um…”action”…myself (no comments from the gallery, plz).

For a few glorious years in my late teens and early twenties, every beer and shot crammed down my gullet on the night in question was in response to something that happened to the team — usually in Vancouver.

Every year from 1995-98, then again in 2001, Canada’s Westernmost NHL city set the stage for some good old-fashioned whoopings.

Fifteen years ago tonight, not even the Legion of Doom could help protect a three-goal, third-period lead. Hit up the video below to remember a time when an actual attention span was necessary to watch anything, and to see what happens when you don’t play defense for 60 solid minutes.

The next year, Paul Coffey arrived at the beginning of the end of a Hall-of-Fame career, and all Eric Lindros did was give him a concussion and knock him out of action for 2 weeks. Oh, and the Flyers scored four goals in the third to win 5-3.

1997 was a year of change for the Flyers franchise, and apparently for the Canucks as well. Philly was challenging for first overall in the league with the albatross known as Chris Gratton and Vancouver was still searching for an identity with their stylish new threads, and so…this happened.

Again, attention span required.

Four goals in the first, four goals in the third. What’s the greatest nation in the world? Domination.

In 1998, it was just a mop-up job from start to finish. A 6-2 win that saw Rod Brind’Amour score twice, add an assist and go plus-3 in Lindros’ absence with a mild concussion. John Vanbiesbrouck stopped 23 shots as the Flyers extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games.

Then…it was over. Adam Burt of all players rescued the Flyers from Millennial stupidity, but that was on December 29, 1999. Simon Gagne scored the game-winner with three seconds left in the third in 2001, and the NYE late-night road swing was dead.

A shootout loss in Washington in 2005 preceded a win at Carolina in 2006, and it’s been a long dry spell until this season.

We got our game in Vancouver, but damn it, it happened to be on Tuesday and was an historic defeat. Anaheim will have to do, but since it starts at 8 p.m. (et), it’s a perfect start and end time for virtually any activity that encourages television viewing.

For the players, being in Pacific Time means ample opportunity to sample what’s in the California night afterwards, even though there’s a game on January 2 in Detroit. Still, if I were management, I’d keep that bon vivant Joffrey Lupul and his weird blood away from our boys so that their focus remains on hockey during this key cross-country trip and their health remains intact.

All told, the Flyers are 8-5-2 on New Year’s Eve and haven’t lost in regulation since 1990 against the Sabres.

I’d say the odds are in our favor. Happy 2011, everyone.