With everyone home on lockdown, there have been a ton of polls on Twitter recently. Pick three candy bars, what is the best movie on this list, and so on and so forth. The one that caught my eye and kept my attention asked Twitter “What was the worst Flyers Moment, Ever?”
There were tons of answers, as the Philadelphia Flyers do seem to be living under the curse of Billy Penn. Barry Ashbee, whose untimely death was the inspiration for the Flyers Wives Fight For Lives Carnival. Bernie Parent whose career was cut short by a horrific injury. Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Chris Pronger, all also had their careers ended by injury. For that matter, Lindros’ entire career could be counted as a really long nominee for the worst Flyers moment ever.
Dave Hakstol got quite a few votes as the worst “moment” for his tenure as coach. Ron Hextall, the GM that hired Hakstol and was fired as well, took some lumps in the poll. There were games mentioned, against the Devils, Tampa Bay, and of course, Game 6. Yes, that Game 6, the one that ended with the Stanley Cup being handed to the Blackhawks in our house, courtesy Kane’s goal that should have had zero chance of getting by any NHL caliber goaltender. While I still wake up, covered in sweat and cursing Michael Leighton to the depths of hell, that moment is not the worst moment in Flyers history. For me, there is no contest, that worst moment is simply put, Pelle.
For those too young to remember Pelle Lindbergh, he was simply a joy to watch play hockey, and more than that, a joy of a person. At the time of his death, he was the current Vezina Trophy winner and was named to the 1985 NHL All Star Team as the First Team Goaltender. The team he backstopped had lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the dynasty known as the Edmonton Oilers, but Pelle was living the dream. He was playing for the team that his idol, Bernie Parent, once played for. He was being coached by that same idol. He had a beautiful blonde fiancé who was planning their wedding. Among his toys was a candy apple red Porsche 930 that was not quite street legal in the United States, but Pelle loved that car. It was the car that would bring to an end not just a career, but a life.
I remember the dreary November morning like it was yesterday. In a world without social media, we depended on the radio and television news, and Pelle was all over both. Newspapers that morning, now faded and yellow having been clipped and pressed away by a young girl who adored the Flyers as much then as she does now, screamed the end of Pelle’s life. In the days to come, we would see pictures of his team mates weeping at the hospital; listen as his Coach Mike Keenan choked up discussing the situation, and read how his parents had donated his organs so that he could make a few final saves.
That young team never recovered. They made a quick playoff exit at the hands of the New York Rangers. The following season, the goalie Gods smiled upon the Flyers with a young, intense goaltender named Ron Hextall, who was the antithesis of Pelle; quick to anger, quick to slash encroachers in his crease, and quick to drop his gloves when needed. As Pelle had before him, he won the Vezina Trophy.
It is here, in 1986, where this horrific moment takes a turn that can only be called vicious. The Flyers would meet the Rangers in the playoffs in Hextall’s rookie season. On the way to a first round six game win, a game at Madison Square Garden turned ugly. Fans in the stands at MSG taunted the Flyers, with signs that read “Hextall, Go Buy a Porsche”. If you were to take a peek at the definition of “Unforgivable” in my dictionary, there would be a picture of that sign. The Flyers went all the way to the Finals that year, losing in seven games to that very same dynasty, the Edmonton Oilers.
Perhaps it was that I was so young, perhaps it was the cruelty of the Rangers fans, or perhaps, like so many of Pelle’s teammates, his death was my first experience with tragedy, but that tragic accident will forever be the worst moment in Flyers history; nothing else even comes close.
By: Phyllis Hunter (@flyersfan1129)
photo credit: inquirier.com