April 10th 1988…The Flyers’ near-Stanley Cup win the season previous, had me following the 87-88 team like an obsessed stalker.
I think I watched every televised game that year and lived and died with that team. When the playoffs came around I strapped myself in, ready for a wild ride. The Dale Hunter-led Capitals were the perfect first round opponent. I hated Hunter’s face and looked forward to ruining his season.
I was also 17 years old, and painfully awkward among my peers. Hockey was actually a great escape from having to interact with the most vicious of all creatures …teenagers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid them forever and often found myself in bad situations. The most dreadful being some form of dance party.
I was involved with a church youth group at the time, where I felt very comfortable and accepted. We often took part in fun and rewarding excursions, that I looked forward to. That is, until the idea of a sister-church dance surfaced.
It was the brilliant idea of one of our advisers to get a few local churches together to have a meetup/dance for us kids. It’s safe to say that ” us kids” thought the idea was horrible and we asked to do something less painful, like eat broken glass or give ourselves paper cuts on our tongues. To add insult to injury, the dance was to take place during Game 4 of the Flyers series with the Caps. They were already up 2 games to 1 and the excitement leading to this game was a living, breathing thing for me. I now had a perfectly good reason to skip this dance.
I didn’t skip the dance. I couldn’t. A lot of planning went into the dance and the advisors made it clear that attendance was mandatory. I remember climbing into our church van to attend the soirée , with an unusual mix of disappointment, fear and surliness. I say unusual now, at 41, but I think it’s par for the course for the average teen.
After some badgering, our advisor acquiesced to listen to the game on the radio on the way there and the Flyers started out poorly, to what would be a 4-1 deficit early in the third period. It was 2-1 as we arrived at the dance and I tried to convince myself that at least I’m not missing a good game. I made him turn the radio to music, so I wouldn’t have to hear any more painful news.
The dance was as horrible as you’d expect. Each group huddled among themselves in clusters to the tune of peppy 80s music ( before 80s music was cool). It was painfully awkward and a friend and I looked for any opportunity to remove ourselves from the situation.
We asked for the keys to the van because we had ” forgotten something”.
While in the van, we wondered aloud how much time we could kill before being forced to go back. We decided that they would have to come and get us. Because I was such a glutton for punishment and a Flyers fan (things that are not mutually exclusive) I turned the game back on.
The excitement in Gene Hart’s voice told me that things had taken a turn for the better. My team had fought back from a three-goal deficit to be within one with about five minutes remaining. Shortly after Brian Propp scored to make it 4-3, what we had feared happened. Our extended absence was noticed and the advisor was making his way to the van. We had our excuses ready to stall even further but Kjell Samuelsson made the best case for us when he scored to tie the game with about a minute remaining. I was delirious and luckily, the advisor was enough of a Flyers fan to want to stick around to see how it played out.
“I will give you five minutes into overtime,” said the advisor ominously.
As it turned out, we didn’t even need that long when about a minute in, Murray Craven put one past Clint Malarchuk to win the game and give our boys a 3-1 series lead. I can tell you that there were hugs and high-fives being generously given within that little church van. It was one of the most memorable Flyers victories that I can recall, this despite missing the iconic, post goal hug between Rick Tocchet and Craven that TV viewers saw.
We realized our joy was short lived when we saw two more of our advisors headed for the van. Our charade was up. They were slightly upset but understood and were happy about the win. The best news was that they were returning , not to bring us back but because the dance was pretty much over. The Flyers epic comeback managed to kill the necessary time needed to keep me away from the teen angst. One could even say that I won twice that night.
Sadly, the Flyers went on to lose three straight and exited the playoffs far too early — thanks in no small part to Hunter, who won the series with an OT goal in Game 7.
I was heartbroken as I had only known playoff success for this team. I’d like to also say that I never had any more awkward situations as a teen but that would be an obvious lie. What I can say is that for at least one night, the Flyers and I shared a moment. Chalk it up as a win for both sides.