Newest Flyers Get Into Swing

Posted: October 09, 1987

The late, great Kate stood guard at the Spectrum's south entrance. Placed there yesterday by Ed and Jay Snider and scuptor Marc Richard Mellon, her purpose on the opening night of the Flyers' 21st season was not to keep those replacement Canadiens out of the building. Kate Smith was there to watch over her flock.

Appropriately, the largest crowd in Flyers' history filed past the half- ton, 8-foot-tall bronze statue of the singer and patriot. The brown oval- shaped building directly behind her always has looked like a sardine can

from the air. It has long impersonated one, too, on nights the Flyers are home.

Somehow, they just keep finding ways to vacuum-pack more people inside. The addition of 201 more seats brings the capacity to 17,423.

All of the chairs were filled last night by curiosity seekers who had heard that their beloved Flyers had a few new heroes. One of the purposes of an opener is to see if the new guys deserve to be as beloved as the old guys.

They passed the test. To one of the newcomers, a 24-year-old Swedish left wing named Magnus Roupe, the fans wound up being downright passionate, chanting "Roo, Roo" after he scored the goal that put the Flyers up, 2-1, early in the third period. To another, goalie Mark Laforest, they granted the respect he had earned for a strong performance, forgiving him for the final 2-2 tie that was hardly his fault.

Nah, Ron Hextall wouldn't have had Claude Lemieux's game-tying goal 3:19

from the end, either. In fact, Hextall would have proceeded exactly the way Laforest did.

He came out of the net, a la Hexy, to play a Canadiens' dump-in and put the puck just where the suspended Hextall would have put it, too, high up off the glass.

It appeared to be flying over Murray Craven's head and safely out of the zone when it hit one of the supports and bounced backward. Shayne Corson picked it up and backhanded a pass to Bobby Smith. Smith relayed the puck by Flyers defenseman Kjell Samuelsson to Lemieux, who had gotten in behind Brad Marsh. Laforest split, but too late.

"I'm disappointed we didn't win," Laforest said. "But I thought I had a pretty good game. Now you just put it aside and go after the next one."

Seeing that the Flyers will have only 78 to go after tomorrow night in Minnesota, Laforest's idea seemed like a pretty good one. Almost as good as the Flyers getting him from Detroit this summer for a No. 2 pick.

He doesn't talk quite as much as the last backup, Chico Resch, but he is 14 years younger and comes with his own hair. This saves all that valuable time at the locker-room mirror ol' Chico needed to adjust his rug and is saving the Sniders a fortune in all that Geritol Resch used to drink.

On top of all those other obvious advantages in going with a young guy, Laforest looks like he can stop the puck, too. First impressions are that the Flyers will be in decent hands while Hextall does penitence for his whack at

Kent Nilsson in last year's Stanley Cup final.

It was only a small pity, what with Roupe hitting every Canadien in sight, rookie defenseman Kerry Huffman getting a couple assists and Laforest playing so well, that Kate Smith Day could not bring a victory. Alas, as strongly as Laforest performed, he couldn't outdo Patrick Roy, who was nothing short of spectacular in the Montreal net.

Ilkka Sinisalo beat Roy with a bull's-eye after Dave Poulin frisked the puck from Rick Green, and Roupe backhanded in a Huffman rebound on a power play. But that was it. The way Roy was playing, the Flyers were lucky to get even two.

This was the return of the Roy who, as a rookie, stoned the Bruins, Whalers, Rangers and Flames on the way to the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 1986. It's easy to forget that he came back with an entirely decent sophomore season, too. Roy was second in the NHL in goals against average and authored a four-game, first-round sweep of the Bruins.

But, curiously, he had struggled against Quebec all year, and when the Nordiques bombed him in Game 1 of the next round, coach Jean Perron got out the short hook and went to Brian Hayward.

When Hayward started to unravel in the Flyers series, Perron went back to

Roy. It was too late only because Roy had pouted through practices and really hadn't prepared himself for another chance.

Now the Canadiens have a new goalie coach, Francois Allaire, and Roy has a new, more sensible diet (his temmates used to call him "casis," the cardboard container french fries come in) and a new attitude.

"He has matured," Perron said. "He did not handle the two-goaltender situation well last year."

The shots last night were about even. The number of quality chances were not. Through most of the first period the Canadiens were moving about as well as - no disrespect intended - Kate was outside. They got going as referee Bob Myers turned the game into a power-play contest. (Hmm, you've got to smell a league directive to crack down on restraining fouls). Still, the Flyers were around the net a lot more than was Montreal.

Roy had at least three saves that were good enough for the highlight film. He threw his stick out as he dove across on Peter Zezel in the third period, then followed Brian Propp across on a breakaway a few minutes after Roupe had given the Flyers the lead. As Roy's pad intercepted the normally deadly Propp backhand, you had that feeling that he had earned something for Montreal last night even if his teammates had not. Sure enough, Lemieux fulfilled the prophesy with his goal and saved the Canadiens a point.

A minute later, Roy got his stick out to beat Ron Sutter, who was in alone.

Neither team had a good chance through the overtime, nor any reason for lingering regret over the result.

It was only the first time this year that you will figure that Tim Kerr, out indefinitely after shoulder surgery, might have been good for at least one goal and one more standings point. But if the Flyers keep playing like this, they will do fine even without him.

Even with half their right wing missing - Rick Tocchet is out for seven to 10 days with a knee sprain - they were still all over one of the NHL's better defensive teams. Their depth of forwards, impressive enough in last year's playoffs, appears to have grown by one more fine player in Roupe.

While other clubs overvalue their prospects, plead patience, insult their fan's intelligence and then never improve, the Flyers quietly keep coming up with players.

Zezel, Tocchet and Derrick Smith made the big splash with their break-in seasons three years ago. All three rookies stepped into regular jobs on a team that went to the finals, a rare and wondrous happenstance. Since then the Flyers have come up with Pelle Eklund two seasons ago, Scott Mellanby last year and now Roupe.

"I need to get hit to get me going," said Roupe, who gave the Canadiens his best shot all night and then his best English to the media afterward. This Swede might not sing like Kate, but he plays like one of her guys. Magnus Roupe is one more reason to make each of those 201 new Spectrum seats worth sitting in.

A new season began not needing a victory to reaffirm that the new guys can play and the old guys still want to. And that the more things change, the more the 1987-88 Flyers will stay the same.

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