Friday, December 11, 2009
The 1999-2000 Philadelphia Flyers will always hold a bit of a special spot in my heart. And why not? They were the hot team in the city back then. My beloved Phillies were a mess, coming off an 81-81 season in 1999 by going a dreadful 69-93 in 2000. Desi Releford was playing shortstop and Ron Gant was playing left field. Pat Burrell? He was covering first base duties. And Macho Row leftover Mickey Morandini was still patrolling second base.
The Eagles were coming off their first season with Andy Reid on the sidelines and a young quarterback named Donovan McNabb still had a lot of question marks surrounding him...when he got to play ahead of Doug Pederson. As for the Sixers? Allen Iverson had started to get the team moving in the right direction, but we'll get to them later on.
The Flyers, for much of my high school years, were THE team in Philadelphia. A trip to the Stanley Cup Finals was not long behind us in 1999 and 2000 and it was every fan's expectation that this season would be the return to the Finals we had been waiting for since the debacle against the Detroit Red Wings in 1997.
But advancing to the Cup Finals would require some changes to be made, and some tragic events had to be overcome. And since we are talking about the Flyers you can imagine that it was not without controversy.
Saying Sad Good-Byes
Over the summer, before the hockey season even entered the mindsets of most Philadelphia sports fans, Flyers fans and the city had to say farewell and best wishes to the long time voice of the Flyers, Gene Hart at the age of 68. Hart was hockey's version of Harry Kalas in Philadelphia. If you were watching the Flyers you expected to hear Hart's voice at the microphone. Jim Jackson was the voice I always identified with the Flyers but I can understand the sadness that must have surrounded the organization.
I was always rooting for the Flyers but I had still not formed my bond with them the way I do with the Phillies. So I regret to say I do not remember much about the passing of Hart. If you care to elabrate on Hart's passing or your memories from when it happened, please do so in the comments section.
But just over a week later the Flyers lost one of their players. Promising young Dmitri Tertyshny was killed in a bizarre boating accident. The boat he was in with a pair of Philadelphia Phantoms players hit a rough wave, throwing him from the front of the vehicle. Before anyone could react the boat had run over the player who had just completed his rookie NHL season.
Needless to say, the 1999-2000 Flyers were going to be playing with heavy hearts all season.
Controversial coaching change
During the season head coach Roger Neilson was diagnosed with bone cancer. In February Neilson stepped down from the head coaching job to undergo his treatment. Craig Ramsey was named his replacement, although to this day I still think the Flyers went about the decision in the worst way they could in regards to public relations. Rather than let Neilson take a leave of absence they practically handed Ramsey the job.
So long old friend
In order for the Flyers to take the next step and reach the Stanley Cup Finals again it was apparent that some kind of change needed to be made. The big trade that was made sent fan favorite Rod Brind'Amour to the Carolina hurricanes in exchange for a big center. That player was Keith Primeau.
Primeau was brought to Philadelphia to compliment captain Eric Lindros. For the most part, it worked. But soon after Ramsey took over the reigns as head coach Lindros suffered his second concussion of the season and all hell broke loose between Lindros, his family and general manager Bobby Clarke.
Lindros had criticized the team's training staff because he played a few games after suffering the concussion. In response the Flyers ripped the "C" off of Lindros's jersey and placed it on defense man Eric Desjardins. With Lindros out of the mix on the ice the Flyers came back strong to capture the Atlantic Division as well as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Playoff memories: The Good
When you think back to the 2000 NHL playoffs in regards to the Flyers you likely have two distinct memories. The first one that go down as one of the top overtime moments of all time...
After the Flyers had disposed of the Buffalo Sabres in the first round they had dug an early hole against in-state rival Pittsburgh in round two. The Flyers dropped the first two games at home and headed to Pittsburgh in deep trouble against Jaromir Jagr's Penguins. The Flyers took game three and evened up the series in game four in the very late hours of the night, or early hours of the morning, in the fifth overtime.
I can still remember to this day all of my fellow class mates falling asleep in English class that (next?) day. It was rough at school that day, but somehow I do not think any of us will ever have any regrets.
Playoff memories: The Bad
Then there is the turning point of the Flyers' post season.
The Flyers were paired up against their old nemesis, the New Jersey Devils, in the Eastern Conference Finals. They once again dropped the first game at home but came back to win the next three games in dominating fashion. The Devils picked up a win in game five to keep the Flyers from clinching. Then came the return of Lindros.
Lindros had not played since losing his "C" and leaving with a concussion, but he was determined to put the team on his back and get the Flyers back to the Cup Finals. Despite a good game from Lindros in game six the Devils sent the series to a seventh and deciding game.
Enter Scott Stevens.
Early in the first period of Game Seven Stevens rocked Lindros with his head down, sending the big center down to the ice with yet another concussion. The Flyers went on to lose the game 2-1 and the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Looking back on things now it seems kind of silly to have loved this team as much as I did. Imagine if a team was in a battle with their captain and essentially letting go a coach with cancer today? That kind of drama would not be tolerated by me, I can surely tell you.
That Flyers team though was the first good team in Philadelphia this decade, and they deserve to be mentioned. Sadly, that is the last time the Flyers will appear on my list. Sure, the Flyers have made a couple runs this decade but this team was the one that I enjoyed the most at the time. And when you see the rest of the teams on my list I think you may have a hard time arguing against that.