Eric Lindros' return to Philadelphia and deep seated hatred between the Flyers and Rangers are just some of the reasons why the 2012 Winter Classic Alumni Game is the biggest version we've seen yet.
The sun tried its best to dampen the mood at the Winter Classic, burning its way onto the field at Citizens Bank Park and turning the ice as soft as cookie dough. As a result, everybody has an extra two hours of drinking ahead of them before the puck drops on the sold out Alumni Game contest between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.
Originally scheduled for 1 p.m. ET, the game will now be played at 3 p.m. ET. It'll be broadcast live on Versus in the United States and CBC in Canada.
And good thing, too. Last year's Alumni event between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals wasn't broadcast live on television. In fact, the only coverage of the game that could be found on TV was a show on NHL Network after the fact, and it wasn't even a complete game broadcast.
Suddenly in the last calendar year, the Alumni Game has exploded in popularity from an event not worthy of even live coverage on the NHL's own network, to a game that'll be played in front of 45,000-plus people on national television in two nations. Why is that?
The history of the Flyers still lives with those two Stanley Cup winning teams from 1974 and 1975, and while many of the greats from that time period still live in Philadelphia and are still associated with the organization, there are generations of fans that have never seen them play hockey.
That explains why at least a thousand people packed inside the tiny Flyers practice facility in South Jersey on Friday night to watch them all practice, and that's a big reason why it'll be a sold out crowd at the ballpark on Saturday afternoon. Perhaps the greatest line in team history, the LCB Line of Reggie Leach, Bob Clarke and Bill Barber, will be reunited. Bernie Parent will be in goal.
For many Flyers fans, this is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
'94 CUP TEAM REUNITES
Just as the Alumni Game is a chance to relive the two Stanley Cups in Flyers history, it's a chance for the Rangers and their fans to relive the only Cup that franchise has seen since the expansion era. Mark Messier led New York to that parade down Broadway, and he'll be one of seven players from that '94 Cup team to play on Saturday.
Adam Graves, Glenn Anderson, Nick Kypreos, Brian Leetch, Stephane Matteau, and Darren Turcotte join him, as well as coaches Mike Keenan and Colin Campbell. It's a reunion of sorts, and it could be the last time so many members of that winning team get together in the same place.
Unlike with the Capitals and Penguins, there's actual hate that still exists between the Flyers and Rangers alumni. It all dates back to the '70s, when rivalry between these two teams was rooted deep into the ground under both cities.
Bobby Clarke was on television in Comcast SportsNet in Philly this past week talking about that rivalry.
"When I came to Philadelphia during the Flyers third year of existence, everyone hated the Rangers and I couldn't understand why. But from Day 1, I've hated the Rangers. And still do.
It's definitely a mutual feeling, too. The Flyers were the first expansion team to beat an Original Six team in a postseason series, and they did so on their way to that 1974 Stanley Cup, beating the Rangers in seven games. From that point forward, the hate only grew, but it was never worse than at that point.
Now, you're taking guys who played for both clubs in the 70s and putting them on the ice together again. A fight may not break out, but it'll at least be pretty damned fun.
This game is being played in Philadelphia, a place where Eric Lindros hasn't made many public appearances since his acrimonious departure from the Flyers organization in 2001. (Ironically enough, the Flyers dealt him to the New York Rangers, where he played three seasons and scored 66 goals.)
In that very public battle with then-general manager Bob Clarke, fans generally took the side of the Flyers legend, believing that Lindros was a big, injury-prone baby that was coddled by his father-agent Carl. Until very recently, much of those same feelings still permeated the Philadelphia fan base.
But this Alumni Game has provided an opportunity to rebuild those once-burnt bridges. In recent years, Clarke has stated multiple times that he believes Lindros belongs in the Hall of Fame, and Lindros has acknowledged his many disagreements with Clarke and expressed a desire to move on.
It seems as though everybody feels the same way. Lindros has done radio interviews in the run up to the Winter Classic, talking about his love for the city and the organization. When he arrived at the ballpark in Philly on Friday, the media swarmed him, and more importantly, at an Alumni practice in New Jersey in front of at least 1,000 fans Friday evening, Lindros was cheered wildly every time he touched the puck.
No. 88 defined an era of Flyers hockey, and it's only right that he and the fans that love him reconcile like this. There's a buzz in the air for this year's Alumni Game that might be just as big as the actual Winter Classic, and a lot of that has to do with Eric Lindros pulling on that orange jersey again.