• Andrew McGuinness

What I (and Probably You) Will Miss During the NHL's Absence

In case you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, the National Hockey League has paused all operations indefinitely due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. With the CDC's recommendation to avoid gatherings of 50 or more people until May 10, it doesn't seem like we'll be getting professional hockey, and therefore the Flyers, back anytime soon.

I'm going to be blunt: it absolutely stinks that hockey is on hold. There's no way around it. It was the right decision, no doubt about that. But that doesn't lessen the sting at all. I love hockey more than pretty much anything that isn't my family or friends, even though in the past, it's let me down more often than not.

This year was different. It's felt different since day one, as I've written in countless FFRs. It got to the point where I felt bad for writing about this new feeling so often, but it had taken such a strong hold of the season that it is impossible to ignore. The numbers and my eyes tell me this is the best Flyers team since 2011-12. I didn't become a Flyers fan until 2014, so this is easily the best Flyers team I have ever seen. In a full 82-game season, the Flyers were on pace for 106 points and a +43 goal differential, which is insane to think about considering how mild national expectations were in October.

But it's not just that they're good again that has made this season so fun. This team is tight. They are united. We've seen that bond all season long. Whether it's Carter Hart picking up the slack on the second half of a back-to-back, or Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny stealing Brendan Lemieux's soul with those vicious chirps a few weeks ago, Kevin Hayes turning down the difficulty to rookie on the PK, or the team's incredible support of Oskar Lindblom during his on-going fight with cancer, this team is special. They don't have anyone at the top of the stats page, but the sum of whole is greater than its parts with the 2019-20 Flyers.

The feeling of gamedays is unlike any other. It's a grind to get through, but it's a special one. One I wouldn't trade for anything. And this year, it's better than ever. There's nothing like waking up early, looking out at the window, and realizing no matter what the weather, it's a beautiful day for a hockey game, because the Flyers are playing. We all go through our routines, work, school, whatever, with the game creeping into our minds until we've Googled the standings during lunch or doodled line combinations in our notes without even knowing it.

The game gradually takes over Twitter timelines as game-time gets closer and closer. We rush through whatever responsibilities we have left so that nothing can ruin those perfect three hours. Everyone has their own traditions, their own way of getting ready. I slip on my Oskar Strong t-Shirt, Gritty socks, and black Carter Hart jersey, flipping my TK-signed hat off its perch to access it.

The buildup culminates with a pre-game show, or in my case, a trip to YouTube for the first three videos in my 2019-20 Flyers playlist. The Who by Baba O'Reilly, which Dave Isaac tweeted earlier this season plays throughout the arena before games. In previous years, I've been able to find the warm-up mix, but this was my first pre-game song. Later in the year, I found one of the in-arena hype videos, and the song to another, and added both. Listening to the "It's Now or Never" hype video and Another Level by Oh the Larceny gets me excited and focused on the game.

And then, the puck is dropped, and the game begins. The line combinations flash, and I rush to scribble them down to replicate for my Flyers NHL 20 Franchise Mode that I've used to follow the season. Each game has its own unique feel to it, and figuring out what that night will be like is exhilarating. I sit and watch, goal horn locked and loaded, synced into our living speaker, ready to blast.

The first period usually doesn't look too great, but there's a calmness that surrounds it. Maybe they're winning, maybe they're losing, maybe it's tied - but the Flyers are going to takeover. It's just a matter of time. More often than not this season, they do. Perfect passing plays, spectacular saves, and huge hits make me applaud and bring me to my feet in my living room.

When the Flyers eventually put the puck in the back of the net, the feeling is just perfect. The horn blares in the background, crisp and powerful, as I celebrate the way whoever just scored would. Every Flyer has their own celebrations I associate with them. Whether it's Claude Giroux pumping up the crowd or Sean Couturier dropping to a knee or Ivan Provorov's bow-and-arrow style fist pump, the feeling of a goal is powerful reassurance that they are good, they are for real, they are winning this game. Whenever the goal song, Feel the Shake by Jetboy, is playing, the world is alright. Anything negative emotions or monotonous school work is put on the back-burner for 62 glorious seconds.

Not every game is perfect, of course. The Flyers remain a team based in Philadelphia, so naturally there's some heartbreak and frustration along the way. Losing is never a fun feeling, and though this Flyers team is better than I could have imagined, they've still had some painful losses (looking at you, Golden Knights and Islanders). There's a knot in my stomach when a loss like that happens, and I can't help but look to the ceiling in despair, not wanting to acknowledge the sudden wave of disappointment.

But it's those moments that make the good times feel so good (so good!), and thankfully, the 2019-20 Flyers have been more than good. I really hope we haven't seen the end of this group. This wasn't an all-in year for the Flyers; they'll still be good next year, maybe even better with the young weapons they have in the pipeline, which combined with some health, means the Flyers are set to become legitimate Cup contenders, if they're not one already. This team as they're currently constructed can go deep. Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. But I'd like to find out. Tis better to have played in the playoffs and lost than never to have played in the playoffs at all, as William K̶a̶r̶l̶s̶s̶o̶n̶ Shakespeare once said.

Oh, would you look at that. The final horn sounds. The Flyers win. Again. My celebration gradually ramps up, starting with the win horn and the classic win song, the Orange and the Black by the Broils. It's right up there with Fly Eagles Fly and Here Come the Sixers as a great unique celebration song, even if it's probably not as popular. Then comes Two Times by Ann Lee, which may be the weirdest song I've ever heard, and definitely has the weirdest music video I've ever seen. But Jake Voracek picked it as the win song, so I'll still listen to it, and yeah, maybe it is a little catchy after all. Weird, but catchy.

Finally, I conclude with another win song, one I think the Flyers use themselves (they insinuated as much on Twitter), but I'm not positive - Bad Boy For Life by P. Diddy. Yes, this playlist has rap, pop, and rock from at least three different decades, kinda like how the 2019-20 Flyers have speed, skill, and spunk on all four lines and three defensive pairings. There's no greater feeling than hearing the words "the saga continues" right before the chorus, affirming that the Flyers are continuing to march towards a playoff spot, towards the top of the Metro, towards the Stanley Cup. They may not make it all the way, but each time I hear those words, they affirm we're one step closer.

Then, the final words fade out and the celebration ends. The giddy feeling each win produces lingers a while longer. I update the header and begin to write, debating a title in my head for a good 10-15 minutes on average before coming up with a pun that isn't too cringey to use. I comb through everything in my head - every shot, save, penalty, and goal to come up with a summary that captures not just what happened, but what it felt like when those moments happened. That's the goal of an FFR: to capture the feel of a game, and the feel of the aftermath. Some games are harder than others, and I don't always accomplish that. But if I can, more power to me.

Around 11:30, I finish the final words and either publish or save to proofread in the morning. I check the highlights one last time, then put my laptop away, put my jersey back on its perch, and try to go to sleep. Some nights, the feeling of victory is too strong to make that easy. Eventually, we all drift asleep, with the thought of how great this team is lingering throughout the night. Then we wake up, check the calendar, look outside, and realize it's another beautiful day for a hockey game. And so the grind begins again.

That's what I'll miss while the Flyers are gone. That structure, the routine, the excitement that surrounds every gameday. Watching the team has been a treat all year, but it's losing the buildup that will probably impact me the most. But it's also what I'll cherish the most when they return. Whether it's May 10 or August 1 or the first Wednesday of October, whenever the Flyers return, these feelings will too. They're gone for now, but like the Flyers, they'll be back, bigger and better than ever. I've waited six years for the Flyers to become this good. Most of you have waited longer. We can wait a couple extra months before we see where they take us.