PHILADELPHIA – Not even a joint announcement of the Winter Classic could thaw the rivalry between the Rangers and Flyers.
Hope the “24/7” cameras were rolling.
New York team president Glen Sather grabbed the microphone and made his bid to host the next Comedy Central roast.
“We’re going to come to Philadelphia,” Sather said, “and we are going to win.”
The 200 Flyers fans who came to baseball’s Citizens Bank Park for the long-awaited and overdue announcement of the Jan. 2 game jeered Sather.
“Now that’s more like it! I knew I could get a rise out of you sooner or later,” he said. “It’s a great event. I’ve respected the fans in Philadelphia all the years I’ve been here. I’m sorry we kicked the hell out of you twice in the Stanley Cup, and we’re going to do the same thing on the second, and at the end of the year we will be carrying the Cup, just like the Yankees are going to have the world championship as well.”
Exit, stage left.
Not so fast.
Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider popped up and took a turn jabbing Sather.
“When he said, ‘we kicked the hell out of you in two Stanley Cups,’ he wasn’t talking about the Rangers,” Snider said. “I remember kicking the hell out of the Rangers on the way to our Cups!”
The fans loved Snider’s one-liners and the nod to the Flyers championships in 1975 and 1976—not the Stanley Cup losses to Sather’s Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and 1987.
This was only the warmup act—and with temperatures above 25 C it was plenty warm—for the biggest regular-season event in the NHL. The worst-kept secret in sports was finally let out of the bag when the league announced the Flyers vs. the Rangers in the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2 at Citizens Bank Park.
The 45,000-seat ballpark is the setting for the fifth classic. The game is not held on its traditional Jan. 1 date because it conflicted with the final week of the NFL’s regular season.
The NHL will again partner with HBO Sports and broadcast the “24/7” reality franchise.
Sather, coach John Tortorella, and players Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik represented the Rangers. Coach Peter Laviolette, Chris Pronger, James van Riemsdyk, Matt Carle and Scott Harnell represented the Flyers. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also was in attendance.
“I don’t think anybody could have imagined how big this event has become in such a short period of time,” Bettman said.
The Rangers and Flyers are the closest geographic rivals to ever play in the Winter Classic. They have played 261 games against each other in the regular season and gone head-to-head in 10 playoff series.
For one day, they’ll be the biggest show in the sport.
Richards snapped photos of the outline of the rink, formed by temporary gates, that ran from third base to first base.
Tickets are not yet for sale. Philadelphia’s AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, play the Hershey Bears on Jan. 6. Rangers and Flyers alumni will play an exhibition at 1 p.m. on Dec. 31. Other events, like public skating, will be announced at later dates.
Flyers president Peter Luukko expected Winter Classic tickets to sell out “within seconds.”
The Flyers played in the 2010 Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins in Fenway Park.
“It was one of my best hockey moments,” Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said. “You hear the skate marks going off the ice. You hear the puck going off the glass when you miss the net. All the hockey sounds you don’t get in a big-time building when the fans are right on you.”
It seems fitting the Flyers are finally hosting an open-air game. After all, high winds ripped off a portion of the old Spectrum roof, mostly tar paper, in 1968 during an Ice Capades performance.
Pronger, the Flyers captain, said the team was expected to start cutting “24/7” promos on Tuesday. He joked that Laviolette will be the worst foul-mouthed offender on the uncensored series.
The home of the 2008 World Series-champion Phillies is the third baseball stadium in the classic’s history. Wrigley Field and Fenway Park also hosted the event. NFL venues Ralph Wilson Stadium and Heinz Field were homes for the other two New Year’s extravaganzas.
Van Riemsdyk recently homered at the ballpark during a Flyers’ batting practice exhibition. He was the only Flyer to go deep and can’t wait to trade a bat for a stick.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said.
Word leaked out last spring that the Flyers were leading contenders to host the game. League, team and HBO officials all spilled the beans over the last few months, but the game wasn’t official until Monday.
The Rangers are playing in the game for the first time.
“We’re a very historic franchise, one of the original six teams, and I think it was just a matter of time before we got to play in one of these games,” said Callahan, New York’s captain. “Each year that went by that we weren’t named, I was disappointed. It was a game we wanted to play in.”
He gets his chance on Jan. 2.