"I wanted to cry," Gagne said. "That was really tough to watch. I started here in Philly and they showed my first goal and all the big goals. It's still hard to think about. It was hard to sleep [yesterday] afternoon.
"I want to thank all the fans out there. It was good to see them again. They're always going to be in my heart. That's something I'll always remember."
His new Tampa Bay teammates - who told Gagne that they had never seen anything like his ovation before - stood in unison with everyone in the capacity crowd, tapping their sticks on the boards and ice to show their support for the emotional moment.
All of his former Flyers teammates did the same on their bench.
Tampa coach Guy Boucher sent Gagne out for the next shift - with his usual linemates - but the humble Gagne chose to stay on the bench during the montage to deflect attention from himself.
Even doing his best to avoid it, Gagne was the center of attention last night. It was his first game back in Philadelphia since agreeing to waive his no-trade clause on July 19 to be sent to Tampa Bay in exchange for Matt Walker and a fourth-round pick.
Fans celebrated his return, after 10 seasons of service and 524 points in 664 games, by wearing Gagne jerseys and waving signs that read things like "Welcome Home, Simon." Gagne, 30, said it was strange to be back in what he called his "second home" and especially weird to stay overnight in a Center City hotel that he once had no reason to visit.
After the game, Gagne said he didn't realize how much of an impact he made in Philly.
"You don't really realize how important I was until you come back here and getting that reaction," Gagne said. "You realize you were a big part of their life for 10 years, and that's really touching."
Blair Betts was back in the Flyers' lineup as expected last night, despite missing the last two practices with soreness in his knee. Betts said his knee - and not his surgically repaired right shoulder - gives him pain every time he takes a stride.
"I have pain just doing day-to-day things but it's mainly when I skate, which is I why I've tried to stay off the ice as much I can," he said. "Every time I can get a chance to rest it, I probably will. We're hoping that it starts to feel better, but it just may take a little more time."
Betts said he thinks he may still be trying to recover from the knee surgery he underwent late this summer.
"I had a scope 6 or 7 years ago, a torn meniscus, the same thing they did before training camp," Betts said. "There's just a lot of wear and tear. I'm trying to balance strengthening it without aggravating it as well. It wasn't anything specific that happened last year, but I just really started to notice it throughout the playoffs."
Lost in the shuffle of Simon Gagne's return, former Flyers defenseman Randy Jones returned to Philadelphia for the first time since the Flyers lost him on re-entry waivers last season. Jones spent parts of seven seasons in the Flyers' organization, including 3 full years with the Flyers.
Last October, Los Angeles claimed Jones and his $2.75 million cap hit as the Flyers tried to recall him from AHL Adirondack. His expensive salary for a depth defenseman forced the Flyers to stash him in the minors at the start of last season. Tampa Bay signed him for a much more reasonable $1 million this summer.
"It feels good, I'm definitely happy to come back," Jones said. "It's definitely exciting. I think I learned a lot. When you move on to different teams, you have different roles. I felt that there were some leadership roles to take upon. And just the experience to play on different teams with different players. It was a very positive year."
Jones found a familiar face in Gagne and former Flyers teammate Steve Downie waiting for him in Central Florida.
"It makes the transition a little easier, when you have guys that you've played with before," Jones said. "We're all good friends."