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Thirteen Years

May 29, 2010

The Flyers finished off the Montreal Canadiens and are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.  When I realized that it had been 13 years since they played in the finals, it surprised me.  Had it really been that long?  It didn’t seem that way, but the calendar doesn’t lie.

Looking back, that finals appearance in 1997 would end up being the pinnacle of the Eric Lindros era in Philly.  Lindros was a one-time hyped prospect who was supposed to be the next great player in the NHL.  And with a solid team around him, it looked like he would finally fulfill his supposed destiny in leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. 

But the Flyers ran into a great Detroit Red Wings team and collapsed.  It would have been one thing to have simply lost to a superior team.  But it was the way they collapsed against adversity that was especially distressing.

Every time they fell behind, they seemed to noticeably sag.  After losing the first three games of the series, Murray called the team out, saying they were choking.  They responded by playing dreadfully in game four, and lost the series in a sweep.

The team underacheived for the next few seasons.  The Lindros era finally ended in 2000 after too many concussions, too many conflicts with team management, and too many disappointing playoff performances forced the team to trade him. 

Even without Lindros, the team was never able to make it back to the Stanley Cup finals.  They seemed close at time, most notably after a loss in the Eastern Conference finals in 2004.

Unfortunately, the Flyers were unable to build off this near-miss as the next season was cancelled due to the players’ strike.  When play resumed the following year, there were also some rule changes made to promote more open play.  The Flyers’ roster was not well suited for this new style of play.  After losing in the first round of the playoffs in the first season back, the team completely collapsed in 2006-2007, finishing with the worst record in the league.

General Manager Paul Holmgren did a good job of trading some of his veteran players to spark the rebuilding process.  And the team had an influx of talented young players come up from the minor leagues such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.  Behind this new core, the team made it to the conference finals in 2008 where they fell to the Pittsburgh Penhuins – led by their young star Sidney Crosby.

After the Flyers fell to the Penguins again last season, Holmgren realized that he would need  to make some changes.  He responded by trading for defenseman Chris Pronger, recognized as one of the best defensemen in the league.  This was a clear sign that the Flyers were ready to win now.

The trade seemed like it would be a waste until the team went on its miracle run through the playoffs.  Now, for the first time in thirteen years, the Flyers are only four wins away from holding the Cup.

How long has thirteen years been?  Babies born during the Flyers’ previous finals appearance could conceivably be getting Bar Mitzvahed this weekend. 

To illustrate how long thirteen years has been, I’ll take a quick look back at the weekend of May 31, 1997 and how life was like back then:

I was down in DC for a weekend, visiting my girlfriend who was taking summer classes at The George Washington University.  We were staying in her dorm room, which did not even get cable reception.  (If you told today’s college students that their rooms wouldn’t have cable, they’d probably shudder in fear.) 

To watch the game, I had to go to my fraternity house to watch it on a big-for-its-time 40-inch screen.  High definition TVs weren’t around, so we didn’t expect great quality, so nobody really cared that much.  As long as you could see the screen, you’d be fine.  I remember that TV well, since we would sometimes have to move it around the fraternity house.  Back, then, large TVs came equipped with large cathode ray tubes and were therefore very heavy.

I got to read coverage of the game on the internet.  At the time, I thought that it was the coolest thing ever that I could actually read the Philly newspapers on an internet browser.  Of course, since I was reading the paper on a dial-up connection, each page took a few minutes to load, so the whole process took about an hour.

One big impediment to using the internet was that you had to have a phone line free.  We used to have arguments about phone lines being tied up due to people being online.  Cable connections were just about unheard of for private use, so in order to get connected, you’d have to dial-up an ISP like AOL.  How many people do you know who still use AOL?  My mother-in-law still has it, and we always ask her why.

For those of you who live in DC, here’s a good example of how things have changed.  The night before game one, I went to the movie theater at Union Station to watch The Lost World (Jurassic Park 2).  At the time, you didn’t have many options for watching movies in Washington DC.  There were a few small theaters spread throughout, but these often had small screens.  If you wanted a big screen, Union Station was pretty much your best bet.  Now, thanks to Gallery Place and Georgetown opening large theaters, Union Station is closed.

After the movie, my girlfriend and I actually walked back from Union Station to her dorm on GW’s campus.  Why did we walk?  Well, we were college students and didn’t have cars.  And taxis were expensive.  And it was a nice night out.  But the most important reason was because the Metro only ran until midnight on weekends.  So if you went to a late movie, chances are, you’d be walking home.

Later that summer, my friend Johnny came to visit.  Johnny wasn’t especially familiar with big cities, and we did that walk with him.  He was absolutely terrified.  I think he’s still a bit traumatized, even though we did stick to nicer neighborhoods. 

Although really, maybe not.  We did walk through Chinatown which wasn’t the nicest area in the city.  The MCI Center wasn’t open yet (It would open later that year), and the surrounding area hadn’t been transformed into the social center it is today.

On a bright note, Johnny did think it was awesome that we could order delivery food at 1 AM.  The big city giveth, the big city taketh away.

So obviously, things have changed quite a bit.  Hopefully, the team doesn’t go another 13 years between finals apppearances. 

Do the Flyers have a chance to succeed where they failed thirteen years ago?  Of course.  They are underdogs in this series against the Chicago Blackhawks.  But being the favored team hasn’t really helped anyone this postseason, and being an underdog certainly hasn’t hurt the Flyers so far.

I’d make a comparison between now and the last time they won the Stanley Cup in 1975, but that would be difficult to do since I wasn’t even alive then.

Go Flyers!  Bring home the Cup!

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