Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday and Morning Starts (A Brief History)

Hope you all had a restful, bountiful and Happy Thanksgiving, but now it's back to hockey this morning as the Flyers take on the Winnipeg Jets.

Black Friday contests have become a recent phenomenon league-wide, but have been a part of Philadelphia hockey history since the glory days of the Fred Shero era.

For the first nine seasons of existence, the Orange and Black did not play in a game the day after Americans give thanks. That all changed in 1976, when the three-time defending Campbell Bowl champions played the Colorado Rockies. The first trip to Denver after the Scouts relocated from Kansas City was a successful one, as Jim Watson, Rick MacLeish, Bobby Clarke and Bill (not Phil) Collins beat Michel Plasse in a 4-2 victory.

It wasn't until the late 1980s when the tradition of a home game on the day Christmas sales kicked off in earnest took hold.

A run of 10 straight (though not in consecutive years) Friday matinees on home ice saw the Flyers entertain six different clubs, beginning with a 5-1 victory over the future Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers at the Spectrum on November 24, 1989.

In the following years, the Flyers beat Toronto (4-1 in '90), lost to Pittsburgh (9-3 in '91, the infamous "Paul Must Go" game), topped the Islanders (6-3 in '92) and Lightning (3-0 in '93), took out the record-setting Red Wings (4-1 in '95), bested the Islanders again (4-1 in '97) then shook up the Leafs twice in a row (4-3 in '98 and 3-2 in '99) before losing to the Penguins once more on a shutout by Garth Snow (1-0 in 2000). The streak was broken the following year, when Bill Barber's club tied in Dallas, 3-3, on November 23. There was a loss to Toronto (3-0 in '02) and win over Carolina (4-2 in '03) back here before Armageddon set in.

Following the cancelled 2004-05 season, the league has seen fit to schedule a Black Friday contest for out hometown club every single year that there's been hockey in November. After a 5-3 victory in Boston on November 25, 2005, we've seen afternoon games on Broad Street six times. The last one was a 3-1 success against Montreal two years back.

As of this morning, the Philadelphia Flyers carried an amazing 17-3-1 record on Black Friday before ties were eliminated -- including 10 straight wins from 1976-90 on this particular day. Following the inclusion of shootouts in 2005, they are only 2-1-3. This will be the first time the Jets have played in Philadelphia on the day after Thanksgiving.

And speaking of morning starts, this will be the first pre-noon puck drop in Philly in almost 20 years.

Playing games in the AM also originated in the late 1980s, as a way to throw some whimsy in the usual 5-6 game matinee slate and to get crowds aware of the impending Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival, which was switched from its long-running weeknight slot to a Sunday afternoon. An 11:05 start, rather than the usual 1:05 or 1:35 PM action, ensured at least two more hours of final preparations on Carnival day once the game was finished.

There was one a year from 1989 through 1993 before the practice was abandoned, beginning with  7-4 thrashing of the New York Islanders on January 28, in which the sub-header for the game story in the Sunday Inquirer read "Outcome decided by lunch."

In 1990, a wild 7-6 affair with the Minnesota North Stars on Feb. 3 was decided with seconds left in overtime by Mike Bullard, the following year on Feb. 2, Peter Sidorkiewicz posted a 20-save, 2-0 shutout with Hartford where fans were greeted with extra security measures at the Spectrum due to heightened fears over the Gulf War. The event was moved to March in '92, but the Flyers still pulled out a 3-1 win over playoff-bound Washington on the 14th, and the Islanders spoiled the pre-party with a 3-2 win on Feb. 27 of 1993.

By 1994, the Flyers played an afternoon contest in Boston, losing 4-0 on Feb. 4, with the Carnival on tap the next day back home.

For the record, I'm all in on the organization throwing us a bone with a morning start each season, just not the day after a major holiday which involves food stuffed with natural drugs that make one pass out on the couch.

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