Last Saturday was just another day for the Flyers alumni.
Get the band together. Go to a local hockey rink. Play a game for charity. Win, as they almost always do. Celebrate with a few beers afterward.
These things are like shampoo directions: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But that’s the way it’s been. That’s the way it’s always been for the Flyers alumni.
For since they’re inception in 1984, the alums have raised more than $3 million for various charities.
They cracked that $3 million lifetime total last Saturday at Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, N.J. when they took on a team of players representing the All Hands Working Foundation, an arm of the non-profit group Leary Firefighters Foundation, which was started by comedian Denis Leary and recently has been committed to raising funds for firefighters who were victims of Hurricane Sandy.
It’s an important total when you consider that a bunch of retired hockey players could have such an impact on the community that they can still draw sellout crowds – as they did at Hollydell, as part of what is really a barnstorming tour.
They’re doing this with their fearless leader Joe Watson fast approaching 70-years-of-age – and they’re not slowing down.
Prior to Saturday’s milestone game, the alumni played twice earlier in the month, raising $27,000 for the Junior Achievements of Delaware and $82,000 for Northwest Human Services on the same weekend – the largest one weekend net donations in the 29-year history of the alumni.
“We’ve grown astronomically over the years,” said Watson, who along with Bob “The Hound” Kelly organizes many of the games and is usually the first player in the locker room on game day.
Considering when the started in 1984 – known then as the Philadelphia Legends – they had to borrow uniforms from the Tropicana Flyers, a youth team sponsored by the Atlantic City casino, to where they are now, it’s safe to say Watson is accurate.
But, it’s not like they didn’t have some bumps in the road along the way.
In 1992, Watson took the group to Switzerland for a tournament loaded with international hockey ambassadors.
A good number of the Broad Street Bullies played in the tournament, and living up to their moniker, things got physical both on and off the ice.
After a particularly physical game against the Czechs won by the Flyers alumni, (“We win all the time,” Watson said. “We’ve only lost four times in 29 years. We’re like the Harlem Globetrotters.”) there was a banquet. They probably shouldn’t have had anything so formal.
“You ever see the Riccola commercials,” Watson asked. “They brought three Alpenhorns in to the banquet and tried to get me to blow the horn, and I couldn’t do it. So, the night didn’t start off so well.
“But I got up to speak, I got the Hound to get up and speak and I asked [Dave Schultz] to get up and speak as well…. Well, we were playing the Czech team and it was a really physical game. One of our guys caught an elbow to the face and broke his nose all to hell. Well, Schultz is up speaking and one of the Czechs is in the back of the room giving Schultz the finger.
“The next thing you know, Schultz is yelling at the guy from the podium across the banquet hall. Finally, after some back and forth Schultz goes charging after him. I started yelling at Schultz not to touch the guy because they would throw him in jail.
Needless to say, they didn’t invite us back.”
Yes, this was an exhibition game. But, once a Bully, always a Bully.
And it’s not just about raising money for other charities by playing games. The boys all chipped in recently and presented Flyers chairman Ed Snider with a check for $10,000 that was written out to the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
“It’s really a good time and we can help out a good cause while we’re at it with each game,” Watson said. The team plays about a dozen games in a calendar year. “And whenever we go away, we’re still hated, which is nice.”
On tap for the alumni is a trip to Richmond, Va. For a tournament run by the Credit Card company Capital One.
And there are conversations about another game with the Russians – maybe in 2014.
“We’re going to keep going as long as we can,” Watson said.
As Stanley Cup coach Fred Shero wrote on that chalkboard so long ago:
“Win together today, and we walk together for ever.”
Or in this case, play together forever. Joe Watson wouldn’t want it any other way.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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