I've been told I attended my first Flyers game at the age of 2. Of course, I don't remember it.
See, my Dad used to take my Mom to games all the time until she revealed, after they got married, that she didn't like going. This remains an amusing story to almost everyone but him.
Anyway, you can imagine he was pretty quick to get me into hockey once that bombshell dropped and I finally came along. And aside from just being a fan of the teams in this city, there's always been something special about the Flyers for that very reason. I assume this isn't an uncommon story for a great many of you read this site, who were introduced to sports by your father or mother, or are now introducing something to a son or daughter as a parent yourself.
Simon Gagne has held the mantle of "my favorite hockey player" since shortly following his rookie debut -- even if there was a brief period of overlap between he and Paul Kariya -- and serves as a prominent fixture in so many of my most cherished Flyers memories. Some of the reason the following moments stand out is because he was involved; that said, he was so talented as to make himself involved.
-- Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Flyers down 3-2 in the series. Skating with the captain and JR:
-- Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis. Flyers down 3-0 in the series and on the verge of elimination. His first game back since undergoing surgery after taking a shot off his foot against the Devils in Round 1:
If you look back through the team's history, you won't find his name at the top of any of franchises' most important lists, but you'll find him on those lists nonetheless. Sure enough, never at the top, but always included with the Flyers' greats is Simon Gagne. Pick twelve forwards in this team's history for an all-franchise team, and you might have to go out of your way not to include him, even if he might have to cede his No. 12 to someone else on the team.
Speaking of lists, there's the very real possibility he could have had his name on another, had he only wanted it. The Derian Hatcher-Peter Forsberg-Jason Smith era was a very strange time for this team in terms of leadership; it also constitutes the prime of Gagne's career. But every time Gagne was asked about the captaincy by the media, and probably the team, he deferred, citing whoever held the title as the guy in charge, even if that guy, Keith Primeau, couldn't play anymore. He never did wear the C, always an A, but was a leader in his own way. Just think of how many injuries he fought through in that one playoff run alone.
That brings us to, of course, the injuries themselves (and we're not just talking about those of the nagging groin variety). It's impossible to discuss his career without thinking about them, and, over time, it got harder to think about them without revisiting Primeau and Eric Lindros. Another Flyer, another leader, with a persistent history of concussions. Those issues followed him out of town to Tampa Bay and, of course, to his current team in Los Angeles. Gagne was absent from the Kings' lineup from late December until Game 3 of the Finals with his latest head injury. Now he's calling on the NHLPA to establish a concussion support group so that he can aid players like himself, and perhaps even receive some help in his own right.
This all leads us back to Games 3-6 of this year's Finals, when he just didn't look like the same guy. Granted, after missing six months and being thrown right back into the Finals, it's going to be tough to get in the flow. But Gagne hasn't looked the like the same player since he left Philadelphia, and his ever-growing injury history isn't helping either. As an ode to a veteran, or perhaps just because they felt they were better with him than without him, even if they were doing just fine (14-2 in the playoffs) without him, he got back on the ice.
Fast forward to when the Kings finished off the Devils in Game 6 and, yes, he nearly dropped the Cup. There was almost something fitting about it. It's as if he and the Flyers fans had waited so long for him to hoist it, that neither he nor us knew what to do when it finally happened.
After he handed it off, he was interviewed, while holding his son in his hands. Watching with my dad, I felt old. Simon Gagne was a 20-year-old kid who skated on All-Star line with Brett Hull and, his idol, Mario Lemeuix when I was an even younger kid. And now, he's 32, holding his own child, a hockey prodigy no doubt, and probably looking at the end of his career sooner rather than later given what we're finding out about head injuries and the fact that he doesn't have to chase that trophy anymore.
He will now have his named etched on Lord Stanley's Cup. It just won't be as a Flyer.