Fans get into draft at Wells Fargo

Posted: June 30, 2014

IT HAD BEEN a long 3 hours for Gary Bettman.

He was lustily booed by a sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center no fewer than 35 times. Once, for a 4-minute span, Bettman was drowned out by a chorus of catcalls that peaked and waned then peaked again.

As he left the building after the first round of the NHL draft, Bettman was . . . elated?

"It could not have been better. I think it's great," Bettman said. "To have that energy in this building like that?"

If nothing else, Flyers fans bring energy.

Sure, they bring knowledge and joy and, upon occasion, anger both justified and misdirected.

They certainly brought the juice last night, when Philadelphia took its turn hosting the NHL draft. The Flyers won the bid 2 years ago, when Pittsburgh had the draft. The Flyers were 6 months into preparation a year ago, when it was in New Jersey.

It was never like this in those places.

Good luck next year, Florida.

"This could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Erin Seiders, 32.

She and her husband, Chuck, 34, drove in from Valley Forge to watch the Flyers take marionette-thin defenseman Travis Sanheim, a 6-3 riser who might not arrive in the NHL until Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are both starting for the Sixers.

They hoped, of course, Sanheim gains 30 pounds and still can skate well and becomes the force the Flyers have sought since Chris Pronger's career-ending injury. They helped give Sanheim a thrilling welcome when the Flyers picked him 17th.

Sanheim had been in town a few days, seeing sights and eating local chow and soaking up the atmosphere, all at the guidance of the league and the Flyers. Asked what impressed him most, he replied:

"Right now, the fans. I was shaking, even before Ron made the pick."

Those fans packed the mezzanine level to the rafters. Some were forced to watch from partially obstructed views, behind the curtain and stage where the picks were announced (and Bettman got booed).

The Seiders were among those on the semi-curtained outskirts, and delighted to be there.

When general-admission tickets went on sale 6 weeks ago, Chuck wasn't able to get any; after all, they sold out in 2 hours. He had hoped to bring Erin, a Boston College student, to see where BC's three prospects landed. He was able to do that when he noticed a Facebook notification about two available tickets, and he responded quickest.

Then he and the rest of the faithful represented.

Bettman wasn't the only target.

Former Flyers player and analyst Rick Tocchet, now an assistant coach in Pittsburgh, was lambasted when he announced the Penguins' pick. The Pens' table thought Tocchet might merit mercy.

"I told you this was a bad idea," Tocchet said to his group as the boos rained down.

The Rangers got pounded, too, as did the Devils . . . and owner Josh Harris, who, bizarrely, also owns the Sixers.

The Flyers were, of course, maniacally cheered. And, like Bettman, the brass embraced all of the fans' reactions.

"Once again, your passion comes through in flying colors," said team president Paul Holmgren, who recently passed the team-building torch to general manager Ron Hextall.

Holmgren helped coordinate the Flyers' effort to host this extravaganza. So did owner Ed Snider, former Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko and current chief operating officer Shawn Tilger.

The Flyers have hosted the Winter Classic, an accompanying alumni game, the hockey World Cup and the Frozen Four.

This time, the event brought as much as $10 million to the city coffers, according to one city offical.

Each time, said Tilger, the fans have helped endorse the Flyers' claim that Philadelphia is as much a Hockeytown as Detroit.

"Isn't this supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love?" Bettman asked, absurdly; then, flailing, he continued, "I love your passion . . . Thank you for welcoming me."

You could barely hear him.

To his delight.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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