It was a modest gathering of Flyers alumni at Xfinity Live! on Wednesday afternoon. It was so low-key that only one bartender was needed.
“We only need one," bellowed Joe Watson. “We don’t do it like we used to.”
They filed into the upstairs room one by one. Some bouncing in like Todd Fedoruk and Danny Briere, some taking it a little more gingerly like Bernie Parent, who is still recovering from injuries sustained in a September car accident.
Parent, the greatest goalie in team history, greeted guest of honor Craig Berube with an ardent embrace. They all did.
The man they still call “Chief” because of his Native American heritage is now on top of the NHL coaching world after leading the St. Louis Blues to an unlikely Stanley Cup championship in June.
He’s done parades and talk shows and even served kids orange juice out of the iconic trophy. This little party in South Philly was different.
“I was surprised by it and very honored,” said Berube, whose Flyers roots date back to when Ronald Reagan was president. “Getting all these guys all together and celebrating with them, it’s a pretty big honor for me. I didn’t expect this at all.”
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Berube played seven of his 14 seasons for the Flyers and was given his first crack at coaching by the organization in 2006. He eventually became head coach for two years before he was fired following the 2014-15 season by then general manager (and former teammate) Ron Hextall.
“I like this place,” he said. “I’ve been treated very well here in my career. Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren took me in as a player and ended up giving me a nice career. Same thing as a coach. They’ve been really good to me.”
Berube was philosophical about his time here, and knew that he’d have to go back to coaching in the minors to get another shot behind an NHL bench. When St. Louis fired Mike Yeo on Nov. 19, Chief got that second chance.
St. Louis was in last place when it visited Philadelphia on Jan. 7. The Blues left with a shutout victory and a theme song they would ride all the way to their first title. Initially, Berube was perplexed as to why the club had picked a song from 1982 as a rallying cry.
“I didn’t really know why they were playing that ‘Gloria’ song for quite some time, to be honest with you. I didn’t even like the song, but then I asked somebody why that song played every time we won a game. When they told me the story about it, it was pretty cool. [The players] go in that bar and end up meeting those guys.”
That “bar” was the Jacks New Years Brigade in South Philly, which became a satellite home for Blues fans almost as unlikely as a guy from tiny Calahoo, Alberta (population 85; yes, 85) guiding them to their first Stanley Cup.
“To me, what summed it up was when I saw him raise the Stanley Cup and you saw the players all gather around him,” said Danny Briere, who played for the Flyers when Berube was an assistant coach. “I had chills watching that.”
Berube, who played for two teams that had lost in the Cup Finals and was an assistant in 2010 when the Flyers fell to Chicago, confessed that was a highlight for him, too.
He obviously enjoyed holding the Cup. But he also has relished sharing it.
“Having the Cup in my hometown [in early July] was pretty special,” he said. “I’m from a little town and just seeing all the people come out and enjoy it, having a get-together with family and friends afterward was a lot of fun. It’s pretty cool seeing your dad and uncles and everybody who raised you and taught you how to play be part of the Cup. It was a lot of fun. Pretty cool.”
Some day, Flyers fans, it will happen here again. Some day.