The date was January 2nd, 2012. The place was Citizens Bank Park. The game was hockey and, I gotta tell ya, it was a good one. The National Hockey League hit it big bringing the game back outdoors. The success of the event built more and more every year, and it’s absolutely magical to witness every time. The Winter Classic has been so successful that the NHL, for better or for worse, expanded the event to include multiple outdoor games annually. Personally, I feel there are too many outdoor games; the luster wears off with the Stadium Series games. But the Winter Classic, oh man, that’s where it’s at.
Leading up to the 2012 event, I was extremely excited. I asked a friend of mine, who had season tickets, if I could purchase tickets through him, as the NHL offered season ticket holders the chance to purchase Winter Classic tickets before the general public. He said he would see how many he could purchase. Unfortunately for me, he could not get tickets for me. So, I scoured the third-party market. I surfed eBay, StubHub, and Craig’s List daily. I watched tickets spike from near-face value – about $125 – to as high as $1,200 per ticket. I was able to secure tickets to the Alumni game on December 31st, 2011, but what I really wanted was tickets to the Winter Classic. As the prices began to fall, I waited, and waited, and waited. I watched the price creep – $900… $800… $700… and then it spiked again. I was starting to believe that I wouldn’t be able to go; I really didn’t want to drop $700 on a single ticket to the game. I would at least get to see the Alumni Game, so that would be a small consolation prize, I thought at the time.
However, the stars aligned and the hockey gods smiled down on Philadelphia and, more specifically, me. Due to demand for tickets, the NHL would be adding additional seats – a small grandstand was to be built in what would be center field. I rushed to purchase tickets, waiting online as my little ticker counted down.
3, 2, 1, 0, loading wheel, and pop!
I rushed and selected 2 tickets for best available. The site searched for seats. My palms were sweaty. It felt like an eternity before the screen refreshed.
“We are sorry but there are no tickets available for the selection you made. Please try selecting a different section.”
Despair rushed in like a streaking player on a breakaway. But, like the flash of the glove save on that terrifying breakaway, I remembered that some people may not pay for their tickets in time and would be dumped back into the pool. I must have tried to get tickets for two hours. Eventually, I threw in the towel and went back to the third-party market. Due to the new seats, the tickets once again bounced back up. Scalpers and people trying to make their money back flooded the market. Discouraged, I kept checking the third-party sites daily, sometimes hourly, in the hopes that someone would screw up with a price and I could pounce on the loose tickets. $500 gave way to $450, which then slid to $425. Then, the plateau hit. About a month went by and the prices continued to float in the $450 to $550 range. My family and friends all knew I wanted to go to the game – even my boss offered to get tickets… before he saw the price and said nah. Two weeks before the game, the bubble burst. I checked the sites and decided to drop eBay and Craig’s list due to the time restraint to get the tickets. I was worried that they wouldn’t show up in time. I knew what I wanted to pay for a ticket and, once they fell into that window (or at least close to it), I pounced. I got my tickets! I paid a little bit more than I wanted, but I was going. But, first, the Alumni game.
Fun times with the old timers
Obviously, the Alumni game was purely for fun, but there was a hint of competition. Seeing the return of the players from the generations lace ‘em up one more time was worth the cold. There were two big names that I particularly wanted to see. Number 88, Eric Lindros, and number 1, 66-year-old Bernie Parent. John LeClair was also present. The Flyers’ Legion of Doom line was absolutely dominant during my childhood and, even with just two-thirds of that line being present, Lindros and LeClair getting the first goal riled up the crowd.
The biggest pop of the game came during the first five minutes. Bernie Parent started the game, and the cheering never stopped. It was his first appearance in 33 years. Rocking the classic brown pads and his signature white mask, Parent made a few saves early. The big moment came as Rangers Alumni player Ron Duguay made a breakaway attempt. Streaking in, Duguay made his move, while Parent turned back the clock about 30 years, channeling the 1974-75 Cup wins to lay out and make the pad-stacking save.
Okay, okay, you’re right; it didn’t happen exactly that way. But, it felt that way. The crowd exploded. Bernie chants broke out, and that marked the end of Parent’s time on the ice. The Duguay breakaway did happen, but Duguay was nice enough to kind of sandbag the shot and put it right into Bernie chest. It was a classly move by Duguay, and an amazing time.
The whole game was a giant trip on the nostalgia train. From the coaches to the refs to the crowd, it was one of the best times I have ever had at a hockey game. Everyone, no matter the color of the jersey or the crest on the front, had a great time. After the final horn, the Flyers Alumni had defeated the Rangers Alumni by a score of 3-1. The game was the perfect buildup to what would be happening in two days time. Seeing all the old timers have another go at it was amazing. Even from the nosebleed seats, you could feel the joy and happiness enjoyed by everyone involved.
The day had finally come. I held onto my tickets and got little sleep the night before. The atmosphere at the stadium was much more energetic than the Alumni Game. The parking lot was booming with fans from both sides. Games and entertainment lined the arena as the festivities kicked off. Passing through the security checkpoint, the ticket booth and, finally, into the stadium, I was as giddy as a little kid on Christmas morning. The first thing I did was find my seat, which was on the third base line and, boy, was it a nice one. A folding chair with a Winter Classic cushion. I was in the handicap area, so I got a pristine seat in the last row. Behind me was the wind. On the third base side of Citizens Bank Park, the stadium is open, which meant one thing for me that wonderful day in early 2012: the wind came whistling in like a fastball. Thankfully, it was a little warm for the time of year. So much so, in fact, that it pushed the start time back two hours. My wife and I were sandwiched between a large group of Rangers fans. We had seats 3 and 4, and they had every other one in the row. After agreeing to just sit in seats 1 and 2 the fans settled in and the game began.
The first period was relatively uneventful on the ice, but off the ice, a storm was brewing. The fans had an extra two hours of mingling, and the signs of drunken behavior started up earlier than usual. As the second period began, however, things settled down. The Flyers got the first goal on Brayden Schenn’s first career NHL goal, and the crowd roared. Shortly after, Claude Giroux beat Lundqvist to take the 2-0 lead. The Rangers put a stop to the Flyers fun just 30 seconds later, as Mike Rupp scored. During the second intermission, the fans became restless. In my section alone, I saw three fights. One between Flyers fans and two between a group of rowdy fans who got way out of line. The stadium security quickly shut down any squabbles. The third period got started and the dream setting was occurring. The littlest flurries coming down, and the freezing wind blowing at my back. And, of course, the guy one row down to my left, who never sat down, clapping and cheering.
“Let’s Go Flyers”….. “Let’s Go Flyers”…..
The chants were quickly quieted when Mike Rupp beat Bobrovsky for the second time to tie the game. The fun was escaping like air out a balloon. Less than three minutes later, Brad Richards put a rebound into a basically-open net. The Rangers fans woke up and the Flyers fans were deflated. This would be the narrative that accompanied Flyers vs Rangers games that season. The Rangers were beating the Flyers and pushing the action. Then, just like in the movies, a penalty stopped the action. Briere was awarded a penalty shot with 20 seconds left. The drama that rushed in. The script was fit for the big screen. Briere began towards the Rangers’ goal, skating in straight down the center. A couple of quick little moves, and Lundqvist was showing the five hole. A quick snap of the wrist, and the puck was on its way. The seats were empty as fans were standing, stretching their necks to improve their views. Lundquist snapped, to close his pads, as quickly as a Venus fly trap consuming insects, and the puck shot in the opposite direction. He made the save, and managed to save the game. My heart sank, the same way it does after a playoff game. The final seconds ticked away, and it took fans with it. After it was all finished, the teams met at center ice for the ceremonial handshake. Both cheers and boos rained down, but it was well worth the price that I paid.
Even though the Flyers lost the game, I would gladly pay the price again. Between the cold and the wind, I was pretty chilled after a few hours. Hand warmers, feet warmers, extra layers, and hot cocoa couldn’t fight off the chill. From the 24/7 HBO behind the scenes documentary series to walking out of the stadium, the whole weekend serves as one of my most cherished hockey memories.
In 2019, outdoor hockey returns to Philadelphia, this time taking on the cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2017, the Flyers played Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. This time, they’ll be at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. With a capacity of 69,000 plus, it’s sure to sell out and be packed with orange and black jerseys. The attendance for the 2012 Winter Classic was 46,967, and it was crazy loud. I can’t wait to start the journey for the Stadium Series game on February 29th, 2019. Hopefully it has less bumps and less stress, but if I can get the same experience from 2012 then it will be worth it, and then some.