Another night in the American Hockey League. The first period
was nearing its end. The home club, the Philadelphia Phantoms,
leaders of the Mid-Atlantic Division, had scored twice. The
visitors, the fourth-place Baltimore Bandits, had been bageled.
Down near the ice several grown men in purple jackets, a doo-wop
group called Frankie and the Fashions that would entertain
during the first intermission, loosened their pipes. Close by,
another purple-suited man, Phlex, the Phantoms' frantic-skating
mascot, readied himself for his first intermission gig. On the
ice one of the Bandits, a big defenseman named Andy Silverman,
threw right wing Bruce Coles, who had scored both Phantoms
goals, into the boards, hard. Up in the press box eight or nine
NHL scouts--mostly old, weathered hockey men wearing coats and
ties and sweater vests--raised sharpened colored pencils with
their gnarled fingers and made a note. In the stands a
white-haired woman named June Evans, wearing black shoes with
thick rubber soles and a Phantoms jersey signed by a dozen of
the Philadelphia players, turned her head, wincing. Bill Barber,
the coach of the Phantoms, cupped his hands around his mouth and
yelled something intended for Coles or Silverman or the
referee--but not for any of the 8,306 people assembled at the
Spectrum, which is Barber's old hockey house from the days when
he was a Philadelphia Flyer, a Broad Street bully.
A trivia question went up on the electronic scoreboard above
center ice. Mike Williams, a junior at Temple sitting in the
second level with his father, lifted his eyes from the textbook
in his lap, 500 Russian Verbs, to the lighted query: How many
AHL teams have the same nickname as their NHL affiliate?
Williams smirked and shook his head. So easy. Six, of course. He
rattled them off. Fredericton Canadiens (Montreal Canadiens),
Binghamton Rangers (New York Rangers) ... and so on. Williams
posed a better question: Before this season, when was the last
time an NHL team and its AHL affiliate played in the same city?
Answer: the 1973-74 season, when the Bruins of the NHL and the
Braves of the AHL shared the first name Boston.
Now the Flyers and the Phantoms are doing the same thing. The
Flyers play in a shiny new arena, the CoreStates Center, across
a massive parking lot from the Spectrum. The local pro
basketball team, the 76ers, has abandoned the Spectrum for the
CoreStates Center too. One night this year, while the Phantoms
were on an AHL-record 21-game home winning streak, the minor
league hockey club outdrew the big league basketball team.
Philadelphia is a hockey town.
"Over there you got your corporate types, talking about the
world at large," said Bob Evans, June's husband, a retired
telephone company worker, pointing at the CoreStates Center
through a Spectrum wall. "This is more like hockey how it used
March 3, 1997
Less sleek, more physical. More affordable, too. You can buy
four top-scale tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas for $40.
Across the parking lot, a club-box seat costs $125.
In the second period Baltimore scored its first goal, then tied
the game, then took the lead 3-2. Out in the Spectrum concourse,
Rita Lyons, president of the Phantoms Phan Club, sat at a table
explaining her club. "We promote good sportsmanship and good
relationships with fans from other clubs," she said. "We're also
organizing an end-of-the-season awards banquet."
The third period came and went without any scoring. The home
team had lost. A night of old-world hockey was over. It was 9:30
p.m. A team of Philadelphia firefighters and a club team from
the University of Pennsylvania had the ice. June Evans, head of
membership for the Phan Club, lifted her cane off the ground and
reached for her husband across the empty seat between them.
"Well," she said cheerfully, "we're still in first place."