View From the Top: Playoff Hockey From Some of the Best Seats in the House

View From the Top: Playoff Hockey From Some of the Best Seats in the House

When the then-CoreStates Center was built, one thing I often heard was that there wasn't a bad seat in the house. As opposed to the original Spectrum (god rest its soul), which had some obstructed-view areas and generally tough angles from which to see a game, both the upper and lower bowls of the new building were full of great seats and unimpeded vantages. 

Being down in the lower bowl definitely has its advantages. The seats right on the glass provide an amazing in-game experience that will change even the way a lifelong fan views the game, and midway through the section, you get a good mix of the close action and ability to see more of the ice. Upstairs, obviously you'll pay less, and the game is farther away. But the upper deck too has its advantages, particularly the 15th row—the last ring of seats before the rafters. That's where I often find myself when I head down to the now Wells Fargo Center for Flyers games, and where I sat on Saturday night.  

The following are some of my thoughts and recollections from the uppermost reaches of the upper deck. 

Being at the game at all, you miss some of the details, explanations, and extra replay angles. With today's HD telecasts, many cameras, and explanations of game play by guys like Jim Jackson, Bill Clement, and Keith Jones, the fan at home will most often be better able to describe exactly what happened on the ice in a game than the fan in the stands, and sometimes even the media, who are nestled even higher than the highest fan seats. 

For this and other reasons, I was ecstatic to return home Saturday night and see that Rev had put together the recap of the Flyers' 5-4 win to even the series with the Sabres at 1-1. It was a huge game that deserved some specificity, and I didn't feel like watching the DVR'd version right away in order to do it. What follows isn't a recap. More so just a series of small and large experiences from one of my favorite things in life to do—go to a Flyers playoff game. I don't care where I'm sitting. But, I often find myself in the very top row, which has advantages that to me far outweigh the distance from the ice. 

It's probably somewhat appropriate that a writer for a site named after the upper level at Veterans Stadium would feel comfortable in the relative nosebleeds at the Wells Fargo Center. The environment is for the most part entirely different though, and even though you're at the top of the building, you can see a hell of a lot better than the upper deck at the Vet or even Citizens Bank Park (which is also a fine place to catch a game). 

What makes the 15th row feel like home to me is that you can do one thing there that you can't do anywhere else in the building—stand for the whole game. Due in part to some good friends having season tickets up there for the past few seasons, I've been in row 15 for most of the Flyers games I've seen in person lately. Sometimes the faces around us are familiar, others not, but there always seems to be a pretty good bond between the fans up there, especially the standers. I almost don't want to say all this for fear of making it harder for me to get the top row in sold-out games, but if you like to be on your feet the whole game without annoying everyone around you, I highly recommend going all the way up. 

So, on to Saturday night itself. 

WELCOME, SABRES FANS
Although there weren't as many opposing fans as you'd see if a closer geographic rival were in town, there were definitely some Sabres supporters sprinkled among the crowd, wearing some variation of Buffalo's jerseys over the years. It's gotta suck to have that red and black nonsense now, or the Slugres logo as opposed to the classic look they've re-adopted or simply an old Sabres jersey. The interaction was pretty tame in the concourses. Some boos and chants, but no big deal that I saw. 

Our section, however, had a firestarter. A younger guy in a Hasek shirsey was actin' a fool, taunting the people behind him well before the game even started. Needless to say, this resulted in some vocal exchanges. Most of his crew seemed to want nothing to do with it, though they did nothing to stop him from trying to get them all escorted down the steps in some fashion or another. Fortunately, it didn't escalate (ie, no violence etc.), although there maaayyy have been a beer toss that missed its target, and as is often the case, the events on the ice had a certain quieting effect on the visiting fans.

We had a few folks down from Buffalo in our row, and aside from not knowing they were in the wrong section for the first 20 minutes, they were exactly what you'd hope for from visiting fans—silent, polite. Then they left, which was even better. 

GOALS [penalties] GOALS [penalties] GOALS 
Rev's recap noted that the flow of the game was broken up by the ridiculous amount of penalties called in it. Interesting in that the penalties are called for things like obstruction, and what ultimately happened is the game was obstructed by all the stops and starts, which are immediately followed by one team feverishly trying only to clear while the other attempts to take its time and set up the perfect shot.

From high atop the building with a few beers flowing, I wasn't quite as bothered by the intrusiveness of all the calls. We noticed them for sure, and the replays definitely reinforced the ticky-tackiness, but it was a very entertaining game, particularly that six-goal first period. 

How about that JVR? No matter where you were sitting in the tri-state area, you could see this kid becoming a man out there. Overall I liked the intensity I saw from the Flyers. Lots of bodies on the ice going for blocks and selling out to get a poke check. This is what the team was missing down the stretch, and they seem to have found it. Giroux's huge hit was topped only by his sick moves through four guys to beat Ryan Miller.

This after I bemoaned him trying to do too much with the puck… I was happy to be wrong. The place was going nuts and the players seemed to be responding. 

At one point a bird was flying above the ice, and I swore it was the reincarnation of the bat from the Fog Game at the Aud in 1975. 

DOOP
We mentioned on Thursday that there was a good chance the Flyers would be changing their goal song from Bro Hymn to the Doop Song. Unfortunately, we didn't get to hear it in game 1 because they got shut out. But on Saturday, the song rang out early and often. Knowing in advance that it was coming, I was watching and listening for fan reactions to what I consider a pretty substantial change for a crowd with a lot of season ticket holders and regulars. Maybe it was the elation of the Flyers scoring a goal for the first time in the series, but I didn't actually see anyone notice there was different goal music. Then, the same was true for the next goal. And the next after that. 

At the intermission, I asked a few fans what they thought of the new goal song. Not one had noticed. I did the same at the second intermission with the same result. The song seemed to be played a bit quietly compared to Bro Hymn, and without the crowd knowing their role in the celebratory song, I guess it could easily go unnoticed the first few times it's played amidst the hysteria of a Flyers playoff goal. Later though, it seemed a b
it louder, and at least in my memory, they played an extra cut of it following the Flyers' fifth goal after things had settled a bit. 

I'd say it went pretty well all things considered. Changes to things like the goal song can be met with disapproval, especially a change to something the crowd doesn't already love or at least know very well. Doop seemed to be introduced pretty cleanly and without too jarring an effect. Hopefully, as the crowd learns the cadence of the chant, the response will be loud and in unison. Check this one out.

ON TO THE NEXT ONE
With any luck, I'll be in row 15 of some 200-level section this Friday night. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you're on the fence about getting down to a playoff game, I for one have never regretted it, even after a loss. At least that's the way I remember it after walking the concourses amidst a proper post-game celebration.  

Flyers Injury Update: Jordan Weal practices, but won't play vs. Washington

Flyers Injury Update: Jordan Weal practices, but won't play vs. Washington

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jordan Weal participated in the Flyers' full practice Tuesday at Skate Zone, but will remain out of the lineup against Washington on Wednesday with an apparent concussion.

He was nailed in Edmonton by Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba. The hit in the corner came at 13:57 of the opening period.

Video replays show Gryba sandwiched Weal hard on the boards with Weal striking his head and right shoulder, then falling to the ice. Actually, Gryba hit him earlier in the period, as well, but it was the second hit that seemed to go the most damage. 

Weal said both he and trainer Jim McCrossin agreed it was better to not return to the game after the second hit.

“He kind of drove me in pretty good there,” Weal said. “It’s a hockey play, though. Not much you can do.” 

The Flyers are being cautious with the head injury.

Coach Dave Hakstol was vague as to when Weal would re-enter the lineup. Weal had just been called up last week to replace Travis Konecny, who was placed on IR.

“I feel good,” said Weal, who took extra practice on Tuesday. “It definitely has been progressing every day ... I’m day-to-day and as soon as I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.

“It’s one of those injuries you just have to take your time with. I think when I feel I’m ready to play, I’ll be in.

“It’s frustrating. But it’s part of the game. With these injuries, it’s tougher than if it was, say your finger or your shin or something where you could put ice on it and get it better. You just have to treat it right and get back as quick as I can.”

Gudas’ departure
Defenseman Radko Gudas left early during what was a brief but long-delayed 45-minute practice on Tuesday.

What was noteworthy about Gudas’ departure, however, was that he picked up his gear and headed back to the dressing room while both trainers remained on the bench.

So he wasn’t injured.

Immediate speculation was that he might have been traded. An hour later, general manager Ron Hextall announced Gudas had a dentist appointment to fix a broken tooth, incurred during the recent road trip.

Needless to say, Gudas’ leaving blew up Twitter with trade rumors.

Lower, lower body
Jake Voracek took a shot below the belt line and couldn't stand for a few minutes near the end of practice. He remained in obvious pain in the dressing room and did not talk … as if he could. 

Michael Del Zotto on trade watch as NHL deadline nears

Michael Del Zotto on trade watch as NHL deadline nears

VOORHEES, N.J. — Michael Del Zotto knows the score.

With the NHL trade deadline just a week away, this can be a very uncomfortable time of year for an unrestricted free-agent-to-be.

Players who are expecting a pay day on a club where there are at least two or three younger and far less expensive rookies anticipating a promotion, know what that implies.

They’re on trade watch.

“It happens every year,” Del Zotto said. “It’s not like it’s the first time. I’ve been traded before. It is what it is. It’s a business.

“You realize that pretty early in your career. I understand where I’m at as far as my contract, being a UFA this summer.

“Same thing with taking each game one day at a time. You take each day one day at a time. Go home, make dinner, get ready for tomorrow and whatever happens, happens.”

The 26-year-old Del Zotto was traded in 2013-14 from the New York Rangers to Nashville. That trade occurred in January, well before the deadline, during a season after which he was about to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time.

That same summer, Del Zotto signed a one-year deal with the Flyers for $1.3 million. His current deal pays him $3.875 million. He’d have to take a pay cut to stay here given the long line of prospects ready to step in at a first-year NHL salary and that fact he has struggled defensively this season.

Del Zotto averages 19:23 ice time. He has 10 points in 32 games and is second among Flyers defensemen with 113 hits. He’s missed a total of 22 games this season with two different injuries, one to his left knee, the other to his left leg.

If you had a chart ranking of Flyers likely to be dealt at next Wednesday’s deadline, Del Zotto would be No. 1, with Mark Streit and one of the Flyers’ two goalies right behind him.

If possible, general manager Ron Hextall would like to add draft picks at the deadline.

“It’s a business and these things are out of your control,” Del Zotto said.

When he was traded to Nashville a few years ago, Del Zotto said he saw it coming.

“Anytime it does happen, and for the first time, it hits you hard,” he said. “Being in New York, I had my brother and wife living with me, it made it extra tough. With our schedule being tough, you don’t get to see them very often, but with them living with me, it was pretty special.

“That’s what hurt the most. Leaving my family. I decided, it’s a business and you never know when it can or can’t happen ...”

The line behind him in Philadelphia includes Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, etc.  

Del Zotto laughed and admitted he’s aware of those waiting.

“That’s the part of the game that is out of my control,” he said. “That is why you have the GM and coaching staff. To make those decisions. My job is to come into work every day, give everything you have.

“That’s one thing. I can always look myself in the mirror. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I give everything I have every day. At the end of the day, if I can look myself in the mirror, I’m happy. That’s all I can control.”

The Flyers host Washington on Wednesday before going to Pittsburgh for their Stadium Series outdoor game this weekend.

"[Those] are huge four-point games for us," he said. "We can't overlook that. We know where we are in the standings."