Former Flyers look forward to last hurrah in alumni game

Flyers Eric Lindros (8), John LeClair (10) and Eric Desjardins (37) , celebrating a goal in 1995, will play in the alumni game.
Flyers Eric Lindros (8), John LeClair (10) and Eric Desjardins (37) , celebrating a goal in 1995, will play in the alumni game. (File Photograph)
Posted: December 26, 2011

At 68, Joe Watson is the oldest player competing in the Winter Classic alumni game between the Flyers and New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

The oldest doesn't necessarily mean he is the most out of shape.

Watson organizes and plays in about 10 Flyers alumni games each year.

"It makes me feel young," said Watson, a defenseman who played on the Flyers' only two Stanley Cup champions, in 1974 and 1975, "The way I feel about life is, if I feel good, who cares what the [age] number is? You're only as old as you feel.

"This is just a nice opportunity to play with and against a lot of guys I've never been on the ice with. I'm really looking forward to it."

For most of the players in the game, this is their last hurrah, especially for those on the Flyers, whose alumni team is much older than that of the Rangers.

"A lot of the Rangers we're playing are not in my generation," said Watson, whose alumni team has raised more than $2 million for local charities throughout the years. "I expected to see Harry Howell, Vic Hadfield, Rod Gilbert, some of those [older] guys, but none of them are there. But that's OK."

The Flyers will have a handful of players from their Cup championship teams, including Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach, Bill Barber, Bob Kelly, Orest Kindrachuk and Bernie Parent. Those players are in their 60s.

They will also have former stars such as Mark Howe, Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Dave Poulin, Brian Propp, Mark Recchi, Rick Tocchet, Ken Linseman and Eric Desjardins.

Seven of the franchise's top eight scorers in history are playing.

Parent, the distinguished-looking, 66-year-old Hall of Fame goalie, originally wasn't going to play. But he was coaxed into it by fans who tweeted him, and he now plans to be in the net for about 10 minutes. He said he wants to give back to the fans and give one last wave.

"We have the most wonderful fans in the world here in Philly," Parent said, "and to have them see you on the ice one more time, that's a beautiful thing."

And besides . . .

"I'm in my prime," Parent said.

"We'll see what he says when the first shot goes past him, for God's sake," cracked Watson, who has been selling advertising signage for the Flyers' arenas since 1985.

Parent, who will wear the same mask and equipment he used in his playing days with the Flyers, said he last was in the nets two or three years ago, "when 2-year-old kids were shooting at me . . . at the carnival."

The Rangers have youth, but Watson said, "We all have two arms and two legs. What it comes down to is who wants it the most.

"May the best team win, and that'll be us."

Clarke, 62, the Flyers senior vice president and a three-time winner of the league's MVP award, will be united with Leach and Barber, a trio that formed the famed LCB Line.

Clarke called the alumni game "a celebration of Philadelphia hockey - we were a part of it a long time ago . . . and it's kind of neat. But it's today's team that's important. It's a nice honor for us to go out and be part of celebration, but that was a long time ago."

"The most important thing is that the Flyers beat the Rangers," added Clarke, referring to the real Winter Classic, which will be held next Monday. "It's not that we beat the Rangers [alumni]."

In the stands, there will be fathers and mothers watching the alumni game with their kids, explaining how Clarke, Parent, et al became the city's most popular sports franchise in the 1970's.

"Well, the sad part is there will be grandfathers, too," Parent said with a smile. "It's been a long time. A lot of those people were there when we won the Stanley Cup. It's a very strong feeling for people to see a lot of former all-stars from the Rangers and Flyers."

One of those ex-Rangers stars is Mark Messier, 50, a Hall of Famer whose 694 goals place him seventh in NHL history.

Those playing in the alumni game "paved the way for the players that are playing now," Messier said. "They're an important part of the history and tradition, so this is a great way to celebrate those players."

The Flyers roster ranges from Watson, who was on the original team in 1967-68, to Jim Dowd and Derian Hatcher, both of whom last played for the Orange and Black in 2007-08. Six of the Flyers' Stanley Cup finalist squads are represented, including the 1979-80 team, which had a mind-boggling 35-game unbeaten streak.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @BroadStBull.

 

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