This isn’t the first time that the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans have had to deal with the unfortunate situation of missing games.
As we all continue to cope with a sports-sized hole in our lives, fans of the Philadelphia Flyers (and the NHL in general) can take some kind of strange solace in the fact that they’ve been here before and still managed to come out fine on the other side, albeit in circumstances that were completely different than our current predicament.
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This current league shutdown really hurts the Flyers. They had been playing lights out for two months and were winners of nine in a row before losing their last game. They had surged up the standings, knocking on the door of first place in the Metropolitan Division, and were looking like a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
Still, even if we don’t get back to playing hockey anytime soon, it looks like the near future is a bright one for the Flyers. This missed opportunity will sting, but maybe they can overcome it in the long run. In 2004, however, a canceled season completely doomed a veteran-laden Flyers club.
The Flyers had finished in first place in 2004 and would go on to finally conquer the Devils in the first round of the playoffs. From there it was on to a series with the Toronto Maple Leafs where the Flyers won in six games, with an all-timer of a punctuation mark that went from Sami Kapanen’s injury to Jeremy Roenick’s thrilling overtime winner to send them to the conference finals.
In that round, the Flyers met up with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were favored in the series and were also completely healthy while the Flyers looked like an ER waiting room. Still, Keith Primeau put the Flyers on his back and they managed to go the distance in the series before falling 2-1 in Game 7. The Lightning would hoist the Stanley Cup a few weeks later.
Despite the loss, as disappointing as it was, Flyers fans came away not with a feeling of anger but one of pride that the team had maxed out its effort and done all it could. The pain of losing felt different, almost as if this Flyers team had actually deserved a better fate. And there was always the next season to look forward to. We would be able to see if they could break through.
Except we didn’t.
The NHL locked out its players as it sought a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and there was no 2004-05 NHL season. Few teams were hurt more than the Flyers, who had to say goodbye to veterans such as Roenick, John LeClair, Mark Recchi, and Tony Amonte. Yes, they reloaded for the “new” NHL in 2005, including the signing of Peter Forsberg, but the group that had been one win away from a chance at the Cup was gone.
The missed season was a huge black eye for the game, and it hurt teams and fans everywhere, not just the Flyers. But I’m hard-pressed to come up with a franchise that was more negatively affected by both that man-made disaster of greed and incompetence and the unforeseen pause that we find ourselves in right now. Those Flyers looked like they could seriously contend again but they didn’t get the chance. The current version of the team was just getting off the ground; hopefully this time off won’t ruin what they had been building.
On top of all of this, Flyers fans are painfully aware that there have been two other shortened NHL seasons in recent memory due to lockouts. The league got off to a late start and had to play a condensed 48-game schedule in both 1995 and 2013, which fittingly were perfect brackets for the canceled season that we saw smack dab in between them. Thanks again, Gary Bettman and everyone involved with those.
Now Flyers fans and hockey fans are in the same boat with everyone else, hoping for a quick return to normal. But if it doesn’t happen, if the Flyers don’t get a chance to make a playoff run this year and don’t get back on the ice for months (or even a year, perish the thought), at least fans can all say “Been there done that”. Even though the reasons behind this missed time are different and there aren’t other sports to fall back on at the moment, maybe the experience will help us to cope in some small way.