For most Flyers fans, the act of tuning in to watch a hockey game is a fairly inane process. Pick up the remote, press the power button, turn the channel to NBC Sports Philly or National, and that’s it. For the majority of nights, the game time is set for a workable 7:00 P.M, after work and before the late hours, perfectly placed. However, for me, I am not so lucky.
I grew up in Haddonfield, New Jersey, one of the multitude of Philadelphia area suburbs. I grew up there just as my mother did, was raised a Flyers fan, and have supported them all of my life. I have distinct, though fuzzy, memories of the 2004 cup run, and clear memories of the 2007-08 game 7 victory over the Capitals (thank you Joffrey Lupul). To say I was a hockey fan would be an understatement; you wouldn’t catch me anywhere else but by the television when the Flyers were playing.
However, I embarked on a new experience three years ago that has made my Flyers fandom more difficult to maintain. I decided to jump across the Atlantic Ocean, and have been studying and living in Edinburgh, Scotland. The 7:00 P.M. starts for home games quickly became 12:00 A.M. starts, and tea would now become a requirement to watch my Flyers. Road games on the west coast? Forget about it. Those noon weekend games that some fans hate would become a blessing.
The time change was just one of many changes that would occur to the displaced hockey fan. I found out that there is indeed an Ice Hockey league in the UK. The Elite Ice Hockey League (the EIHL) played host to 12 different teams throughout the country, including the now defunct Edinburgh Capitals (to my chagrin) for whom I became a beat writer covering. The league was an interesting amalgamation of British players attempting to prove themselves, grizzly veterans (many of which were ex-AHLers), and expats looking to explore the world (including our old friend Jay Rosehill).
The league has a small but incredibly passionate following, and the atmosphere surrounding the sport is very similar to the NHL pre-expansion. Most passionate hockey fans know each other, despite whichever team they support, and almost always support an NHL team in addition to a local British club. Many a fan here dreams of making the journey to the United States or Canada to see a live NHL game, and often express to me how lucky I am to have grown up with the NHL at my fingertips.
In terms of Flyers support, it appears that I have gone to the wrong city. There is a large Flyers following in the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland. The local club in the EIHL is called the Belfast Giants, and they are one of the most successful teams in the UK. They also happen to play a very gritty style akin to the Broad Street Bullies, and as such, they find affinity with the Philadelphia Flyers. I specify Philadelphia since there is an EIHL club from the nearby Scottish town of Fife called the Fife Flyers, who are the oldest professional club in the UK. However, here in Edinburgh (and to a degree the whole of the UK) fandom is more centered around recent champions. There is a large fanbase for the Penguins, Capitals, and Blackhawks, much to my gloom. Despite this, there are Flyers fans here! As well as a multitude of Eagles fans.
Being away from the NHL has given me great respect for the level at which the game is played at. In Europe, we have the most access to the EIHL, but to the leagues in Sweden, Germany, and rarely, the KHL. It has broadened my horizons as a hockey fan, and has given me more appreciation for the Flyers than I could have ever had. I had originally thought I would be destined for a world in which hockey is non-existent, but instead I found a vibrant hockey community that cherishes the game just as much as in North America.