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On coming home, and starting again

The first season opener at home in years felt like a new start.

Heather Barry

It was 4PM Friday afternoon and I still wasn’t sure I was going to go to this game. The last time I was at the Wells Fargo Center for a Flyers game it was sometime in 2018 — my longest stretch without seeing a game in person in nearly a decade.

A million things kept me home. The lackluster performances from the team. The long drive from Wilmington, where I used to live. The comfy couch and big television. The free snacks at home. The still-too-high prices for tickets and parking. And then a move to Canada. And then a pandemic.

So yesterday, as I contemplated pulling the trigger on a treat-yo-self lower level seat, nearly $200 after fees, I sighed. I looked at my comfy couch. My big TV. I thought about last year’s Flyers team, and the one before, and the maddeningly boring and frustrating and just plain bad hockey games we watched them play. I thought about the quiet, lifeless, uninspiring atmosphere that the Wells Fargo Center had become. There it was, 4PM on opening day, and I couldn’t click the “checkout” button.

And then, out of nowhere, a free ticket fell into my lap. Well, into my DMs (shout out to Cooper and his dad!). Just like that, I was pulling my Mike Richards jersey out of the closet and walking to the el.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I made my way toward the Broad Street entrance. There seemed to be quite a lot of tickets available only hours away from puck drop, so I wasn’t expecting anything close to a packed house. The offseason excitement that grew within the fan base after Chuck’s busy summer seemed to be waning after preseason, in which the Flyers played just so-so hockey and several key players were pulled from the lineup due to injury. Expectations, insomuch as I had them, were low.

But then, in that period of time between pregame skate and puck drop, fans filed in. A lot of them donning the orange tee shirts given to us as we walked in. Lou Nolan’s voice filled the air, announcing each player’s name as they skated toward their blueline, backed by cheers and claps of varying enthusiasm by the fans. Lauren Hart delivered a pitch-perfect pair of anthems. The puck was dropped and the new season was underway.

Very quickly I realized things were different. Loud — really loud — chants of LET’S GO FLYERS spontaneously broke out. There were raucous cheers for long shifts spent in the offensive zone. Cheers for saves made by Carter Hart. Cheers for clearing the zone. Cheers that were sustained and enthusiastic and infectious. In the second, as things started to fall apart for the Flyers, there were boos. Loud boos. Hearty boos. Shouting at players for failed clears, calling for passes and shots. You don’t want to hear your team being booed because they’re playing terribly, but when you boo it means something. It means you’re engaged. You care. It isn’t silence. It isn’t indifference.

In the final minutes of the game, as the Flyers came back to tie the game in thrilling fashion, the Wells Fargo Center was more full of life than I have seen it in years. People were jumping. High-fiving strangers around us. Cheering as loud as our voices would allow. In overtime, most fans were on their feet. Screaming at players who couldn’t hear us. Shouting encouragement at Carter Hart with each save, as if we could will him to reach his potential. All of us, together.

In the end, the Flyers would lose in a shootout. But it didn’t matter, really. After years — what feels like a million of them — of empty seats or silent fans or both, we were back. All of us, in orange, were back. Home, again.