Flyers’ alumni game brings players together, some with compelling stories to share
The Flyers held an alumni game for charity Monday at the Wells Fargo Center; they also swapped stories -- none better than Reggie Leach's.
Some are a little heavier and some have shades of gray creeping into (or covering) their hair. Some still look fit and trim — hello, Simon Gagné and Danny Brière — and appear as if they could contribute to an NHL lineup.
All were reunited Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center — the House that Lindros Built — because of their appreciation for their years with the Flyers.
“It’s always fun to come back and see the guys,” said Gagné, who spent 11 seasons with the Flyers. “It’s a big family back here in Philly. Even today, I call Philly my second home. It was an honor to put that jersey on. When I got traded to Tampa Bay, it took me almost three months to get used to wearing a different jersey.”
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Gagné, 41, was among the 31 players who returned for the reunion game, which raised money for the Flyers’ alumni charity programs and Flyers Charities.
“This,” said Brière, 44, who along with Gagné received two of the loudest ovations when introduced, “is one of the strongest alumnis that’s out there.”
“Coming here and supporting this great cause for what the Flyers’ alumni is doing is wonderful,” said Reggie Leach, a star right winger on the 1974-75 Flyers, the franchise’s last team to win the Stanley Cup. “And we all have stories to tell.”
Leach’s story is more compelling than most. He was an alcoholic during parts of his playing career and has now been sober for 36 years. Leach, 71, lives on an island in Ontario and works with First Nation communities around Canada, talking to Indigenous children about his missteps and trying to keep them off drugs and alcohol.
“I talk about life choices and how important it is to be an athlete,” he said before the alumni game.
Known as The Rifle for his blazing slap shot, Leach said he “made mistakes when I was younger, and I did correct them and life for me is really good.”
He praised Joe Watson — who at 78 was the oldest player in the game — for his 50-plus years with the organization as a player and advertising executive.
“To me, he’s Mr. Flyer,” Leach said.
Watson, who once served as Bobby Orr’s best man at his wedding, played defense on the Flyers teams that won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. He recalled when the Flyers selected him in the 1967 expansion draft.
“The only thing I knew about Philadelphia was when Johnny Callison [of the Phillies] hit a home run in the 15th inning [actually, ninth] in the 1964 in the All-Star Game,” Watson said.
Like countless former Flyers, especially those who played on the Cup winners, he has been entrenched in the region ever since.
“I never thought we’d be here 54 years later, but I can honestly say this area has obviously grown on me,” Watson said. “My kids were born and raised here and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It’s a big city, but it’s a small city at the same time. It’s easy to get around; you get to know your neighbors very easily, and I must say I enjoy it immensely.”
“When I came here in 1974 from the Oakland Seals, it changed my whole attitude about hockey,” Leach said. “I had to learn everything all over again, and I had to be a team player and be a part of the family to be successful here.”
He said the veterans like Watson and Ed Van Impe helped him become a better player.
Leach, who scored 61 goals in 1975-76, said the late Ed Snider, the Flyers’ co-founder, “was dedicated to have us as a hockey family; not just a hockey team but a hockey family.”
Someone asked Leach which of the records he holds means the most to him. He said every spring he gets asked about his NHL-record 19 goals in 16 playoff games in 1976.
“It’ll be broken,” he said of his 19 goals, “but they’re not going to do it in 16 games. And, to me, it’s a great feeling. It’s an accomplishment I’ve had for the last 45 years.”
Scottie Upshall had a hat trick to lead Team Holmgren past Team Tocchet, 6-5. Gagné scored two goals for Team Tocchet. ... Rick Tocchet and Paul Holmgren will be inducted into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday before the game against Calgary. ... “I think we need a respiratory machine for some of these players,” cracked Steve Coates, who helped coach Team Tocchet. ... Since Watson and the Flyers parted ways recently, he said he has had to find other hobbies “because you can’t golf all the time.” He planned to get up early Tuesday to feed the buffalo on his friend’s Kennett Square ranch. ... Bob Clarke, one of the game’s many coaches, was called “the ultimate Flyer” when introduced by public-address announcer Lou Nolan … During his career, Eric Lindros said he and his linemates “had a lot of fun, and when you have fun, you start to expand and try new things just to get a jump on people.” ... Flyers players from six decades took part in the game. ... Mike Knuble, 49, got hit with a deflected puck in the face late in the second period, went to the locker room, and then returned for the third period. “I don’t think in all my years playing I was ever hit that flush with a puck with that kind of velocity,” he said. “Any smart guy would have shut down, but I’m just too dumb to stop playing.”
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