I enjoy watching baseball, football and basketball. But when it comes to the sport I have the most passion for, hockey is No. 1.
I have my dad Jack to thank for that.
This past Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of my dad’s passing at the far-too-young age of 59, five weeks after he celebrated his birthday and a few weeks after our Philadelphia Flyers got swept in the 1997 Stanley Cup Final by the Detroit Red Wings. He died of a rare brain disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rapidly progressive disease that ends in death. There is no known cure. It happens to one in a million people.
My dad started following the Flyers when they came into existence in the NHL in 1967. My dad worked the night shift as a truck dispatcher for a grocery store distribution center across the street from the Spectrum, where the Flyers played. (The site of the distribution center is where Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, now stands). Before he would go to work, he would go to the games, and he enjoyed it.
Soon, he would purchase a partial season ticket plan, and then went for the full season tickets. We got in at the right time because by the time the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup in 1974, you could not get a ticket to a game.
I was the envy of my grade school classmates.
One of the most memorable things my parents did for me was for my eighth birthday on Oct. 24, 1971. They wrote a letter to the Flyers asking if I could come down to the locker room after a game against the Chicago Black Hawks and get autographs. Lou Scheinfeld, who was vice president of the Flyers, wrote back and said yes. It was an incredible experience to meet the players, especially after they beat the Black Hawks. I still have a picture taken of me with center Rick MacLeish, who would become one of the Flyers’ most prolific goal scorers. I treasure that picture.
After that, I was hooked on hockey. To be in the building with my dad on May 19, 1974, when the Flyers won the Stanley Cup over the Boston Bruins, and share the joy of the excitement of winning the Cup, and then going to the victory parade the next day, is something that I will never forget.
Funny story. The night before, we attended a First Communion party at a family friend’s house in Southampton, a suburb of Philadelphia. My dad was a bartender on the weekends, and my mom drove him to the bar not far from the party.
In 1974, streaking was a popular fad. I was with fellow kids in a room watching TV. Someone dared me to streak.
Unfortunately, I did.
Someone told the parents downstairs. When my mom returned, she was informed of what happened. To say she was not pleased was an understatement. She took me home, and my punishment was I wasn’t allowed to go to the game. I was upset.
The next day, we went to Mass, and then I went to my room to spend the day. I was going to have to watch the game on TV.
But a couple of hours before the game, I was told that I would be allowed to go. My dad talked to my mom, and the punishment was lifted. Trust me, I was very thankful.
My dad was involved with the Flyers Fan Club for many years, including serving as president. He got to meet some of the Flyers players during that time. I have several of those pictures, including one of him working a Flyers Wives Fight For Lives Carnival with Dave Brown and the late Brad McCrimmon. I saw Brown, now a Flyers scout, at the NCAA hockey Albany Regional in March. When I showed him that picture, he smiled and said he remembered my dad. That made me feel good.
I started my hockey coverage career in late 1985 when, just a few months after graduating from York College of Pennsylvania, I became the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears beat writer for the York Daily Record. The Bears were affiliated with the Flyers. That was a thrill.
I felt my career came full circle when Union won the 2014 NCAA hockey title. Covering the Dutchmen as they captured the title at Wells Fargo Center in my hometown and across the parking lot from where the Spectrum used to be, I could feel my dad watching over me and smiling.
As I look forward to my 27th season covering Union, and 33rd season overall covering hockey, I can’t help but think my dad is watching over me and enjoying my coverage.
I miss you and love you, Dad.
Thank you for inspiring me to love hockey.