Celebrate Hockey Day in America: Bullies-Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden

Celebrate Hockey Day in America: Bullies-Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden

We can all get up for big games against the Penguins, Capitals, Canadiens, Bruins, and the other hated Eastern rivals. But something about Flyers-Rangers games always feels a little more intense to me. The hate may be stronger against the Pens some years, but the vitriol between the Flyers and the team from Manhattan is older, more engrained, and no less bitter. 

The Rangers are an Original Six club, and like the Flyers, have left their logos, colors, and sweaters largely unaltered throughout their history. The franchises are steeped in tradition, if not necessarily Stanley Cup wins, and part of that tradition is this rivalry. On their way to their first Cup win, the Flyers became the first 1967 expansion team to beat an Original Six team in a playoff series, taking down the Rangers in seven games in 1974. There was a new force in American hockey. NHL.com has a great piece on the rivalry, with an eye toward a battle in that seventh game and what that series meant.

Description and vintage video of a classic and defining Blueshirts-Bullies battle below.

The most memorable playoff meeting came in the 1974 semifinals, when the Flyers became the first expansion team to defeat an Original 6 team. The teams were tied, 3-3, going into Game 7 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The game was scoreless midway through the first period when some pushing and shoving near the Rangers' net led to a memorable fight between the Flyers' Dave Schultz and Rangers defenseman Dale Rolfe.

"There was a little altercation in front of their net, he was shoving (Orest) Kindrachuk," Schultz told NHL.com. "And when I came in, he said, 'Oh boy, here comes Schultz.' I wasn't anticipating him dropping his gloves. He wasn't a fighter."

Rolfe was a strapping 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, giving him the size advantage against the 6-1, 185-pound Schultz. But Rolfe wasn't much of a fighter, and it showed against Schultz, who left Rolfe a bloody mess.

Flyers coach Fred Shero told reporters after the game: "That took something out of New York. They didn't do as much hitting after that." The Flyers won the game, 4-3, and then beat Boston to win their first Stanley Cup.

Love it. 

This season, the Flyers own the edge, winning the first three meetings 4-1, 4-1, and 3-2. They're also 15 points up on New York in the struggling Rangers in the division and continuing to pace the East. 

Their loss Friday night in Carolina wasn't a bad one. They had to deal with some unexpected line and lineup shuffling when Mike Richards couldn't go due to injury, which left them with just 11 forwards for the first 4 minutes of the game while Jody Shelley rushed to get from the press box to the locker room, get dressed, and get to the bench. Less than 7 minutes in, the Hurricanes were up 2-0. They'd ultimately win, 3-2.

But the Flyers fought back respectably, and Sergei Bobrovsky settled in quickly after giving up a bad second goal, clamping down the rest of the way. Rick Tocchet pointed out between periods that it was a great test for Bob, and he was passing, showing that a few rough goals early wouldn't rattle him into a bad overall performance. That could be huge come playoff time. 

Sam Carchidi expects Brian Boucher to get the start today though, and why not. Boosh was the man in net when the Flyers backed into the playoffs last year on a shootout win over the Rangers in the 82nd game. That put the Rangers out of the playoffs and the Flyers in, the latest major chapter in this rivalry. I don't think I'll ever forget this. 

Happy Hockey Day in America. Make an event of it. Have your people over if you're not one of the many fans on Amtrak to Penn Station this morning. Get a good afternoon-drunk on if you're of legal age. Get fired up. 

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Pockets of NBA players have increasingly started to speak up about what they believe to be racial and social injustices taking place in the United States.

With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem sparking protests from other players around the NFL and various sports, now the NBA as a whole is preparing for potential protests prior to games.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association union executive director Michele Roberts came together last week to formulate a joint letter to players to express how the two sides plan to take "meaningful action."

Whatever that action is, Sixers veteran Elton Brand is all for it and the overall discussion of issues going on around the country.

"There are e-mails and direct texts from the NBPA. We’re working with the NBA. They’re going to talk to us soon,” Brand said. “My thing is if you want to stand up for something, that’s a good thing. Especially in America, the tensions and the injustices that are going on right now. 

“Even in our locker room we’re discussing who feels like this, who feels like what and ways that we can display how we feel about things. I’m all for it. I stand behind it and stand with other athletes and people that want to stand for a cause. Whatever their cause is, they want to stand for a cause. Our cause may be different.”

The NBA is significantly more diverse than the NFL, and Brand even admitted it’s been an eye-opening experience having talks about issues affecting African Americans inside a locker room with players from around the globe.

“We have a lot of international players,” he said. “I’m looking around the room and there are seven people that aren’t from this country. So you talk about the flag, talk about the constitution and to them it’s like, ‘I represent America because I’m working here, but I’m pro-Spain and I have problems there, too.’ We’re all sorting it out. We’ve had discussions internally also. I’m looking forward to what the NBPA and the NBA have to offer."

What the league and players association come up with will likely serve as something other than protesting during the actual anthem. Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a rule in place that explicitly states players, coaches and trainers must stand on the foul line or sidelines in a dignified posture during the playing of national anthems.

If Sixers players do ultimately decide on some sort of protest before games, they will have the support of the organization to express their rights.

"We haven't been together collectively long enough to have a real robust discussion about it," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said. "I think we just addressed it briefly this morning with the players in an opportunity to say the following. Basically, we as an organization are going to be supportive of the views of our players. As the league and the players association formulate perhaps an approach, they've already circulated some information to teams. Things are probably still at the discussion phase. I hope to think that's where things are with our players, that they're still at the discussion phase. 

"Once again, I'm assuming that there will be a desire to express an opinion or viewpoint. I've always been supportive of people in society having freedom to express a viewpoint. Again, going back to the league and the players association, in a positive way I think they've always been out in front of some of these social issues and if they can affect social change in a positive way they probably will. You can just anticipate that there's still some unknowns to this, but you can estimate that we will be supportive as an organization as to how our players want to express their views."

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — The long wait could be over next week.

Joel Embiid expects to play in the Sixers' first preseason game Oct. 4 at UMass-Amherst against the Celtics, he said Monday at media day.

“The first thing for me is just get back on the court,” Embiid said of his expectations this season. “It looks like in a couple days I’m going to have the chance to do that.”

Embiid has missed the past two seasons since being drafted third overall because of foot injuries. Even though he is taking his rookie year one step at a time, he has a positive long-term outlook given how healthy he feels. 

“I’m confident that I’m going to have a long, successful career,” he said. “From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have a 20-year career.”

Embiid has grown as a player and a person during his recovery. He noted had he been competing in an 82-game season, he would not have had as much time to dedicate on his development. As a result of the specialized workouts and the hours he has spent in an individual practice format, he has improved his shooting and gained strength and speed. 

“What I was two years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” he said. “My game has gotten so much better ... I’m not the same guy. I’m different.”

Embiid has been following a well-mapped out rehab plan during which he has had to adhere to restrictions, and will continue to do so this season. He admits the restrictions have been frustrating, but he now understands they are being implemented for his best interest long term. The lengthy recovery has forced him to change his outlook on maintaining his health. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab, going through that, the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor [said] you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to what people have to say.”

Head coach Brett Brown wants Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense. Embiid, who stands at a towering 7-foot-2, 275 pounds, is ready to embrace those expectations. He has studied tape of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, among others. Embiid likes the game of Marc Gasol and appreciates how DeAndre Jordan communicates as a big man. 

“I love playing defense,” he said. “I hate when the other team scores.”

Embiid's debut will be the culmination of years of work. Now that the season is approaching, he is eager to count down the days. 

“I’m really excited,” Embiid said. “I’ve gone through a lot and it’s been two years. The fact that I’m healthy now and ready to get back on the court, I just can’t wait.”