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Hockey is back, and it’s different now

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A little look behind the scenes.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

Hockey’s back, folks! The Flyers played a meaningful game for the first time in what feels like a thousand years last night, and there are certainly a lot of takeaways we can discuss from that pretty decisive first win over the Penguins. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to talk about all of the ancillary bits that really made last night a new experience.

For me, it was my first time back covering a game live and in person since the Flyers’ last game against the Bruins in March, before the season was paused. On one level, I was just plain excited to be back at it, but really above all, I was excited to see what this new normal looks like, what it brings. So, to that end, I thought I’d take you all on a little virtual behind the scenes tour of my evening covering last night’s Flyers game. Strap in, folks, let’s get [hopefully not too] weird.

We’re going to start with arriving at the arena (because really, no one needs a blow-by-blow breakdown of my drive to the rink, how many times I listened to driver’s license, or the wrap I ate sitting in my car in the parking lot).

It’s a bit of a process getting into the arena now, more so than we’re used to. Before you head into the building, you submit a symptom screening form online, then head to the regular media entrance, where, while your bag runs through the x-ray machine, you get your temperature checked with a freaky thermometer that I always can’t help but think looks like a radar gun.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

There was something a little jarring about walking into the arena with warmups already underway and being met with a completely empty concourse, but that’s what we had. Confirmed that I was not running a fever, it was a quick stroll through that empty concourse, past the designated food and drink areas in the atrium, to the section with my assigned seat. That’s right! No press box this year! We’re living large, sitting in the lower bowl.

Everybody’s got their own big table to sit at, completely socially distant, and I have so much room to work with that I almost feel like I need to start bringing more stuff than my laptop and notebook to fully make use of all that space. It’s a whole new vantage point and I have to say, gang, I do not hate it.

I took this on my phone. I know it’s not a good as Heather’s photo. Keep scrolling.

It is a very definitely vibe, and it felt like a lot to take in. Here are some assorted impressions that came into my brain as the game was going on, not all completely related to the game itself, of course. We’ve got plenty of time to talk about that later.

  • Having the media sitting in the lower bowl really is pretty neat. I like the view from the press box, but I can also count the number of times in my life that I’ve watched a hockey game from the lower bowl on one hand, so this is a pretty cool change. It does come with some danger, though—we’ve seen pucks fly over the glass into the area where I sit, so this means I'm likely going to spend the duration of the season living in fear that I'll be struck by a rogue puck. I'll just suggest now that if this does happen, whoever fired the puck over the glass should have to forfeit their daily earnings to cover my emotional distress. Just saying.
  • The empty arena and being closer to the ice thing also means we can really hear players and coaches yelling at each other. I haven’t picked up anything particularly spicy yet. But I'm hopeful.
  • It’s very cold in the building. I kind of expected it, as having fewer bodies in an arena does mean it tends to be colder. Usually I have to put my jacket on by the third period when I’m covering Phantoms games, but Flyers games, not so much.
  • I didn't notice it as much as the game went on, but the artificial crowd noise definitely just sounded like an airplane engine noise. Watching the playoff broadcasts, I thought it seemed somewhat convincing in Edmonton and Toronto, but in person (in Philly at least) it kind of just sounded like weird white noise.

There was a lot that felt different about last night, but there was a lot that didn’t too. After the game, we jumped on a video call for the player and coach media availabilities, and maybe that’s not completely normal for game coverage, but coming up on a year since we all moved it all online in just about all respects, that’s starting to feel normal too. The hockey was a little sloppy at times, but that felt pretty standard for the beginning of a season. It was still hockey. It feels like it always does.

The quiet drive up Broad Street felt the same as it always does.

And I’m not much of one for sentiment, but there was something that I appreciated about that. Hockey is different this year in so many ways, but it’s still here, and there is some comfort to be found in the familiar pieces. At least I think so.