Flyers fans take their dedication far afield
WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Six friends in their late 20s, most of whom grew up in the Philadelphia area but are now spread all over the country, have a reunion or two each year and travel to some Flyers road games.
This year, they bypassed such desirable locations as South Florida and Anaheim, Calif. Instead, they reunited by starting their trek Tuesday in Winnipeg, of all places. Their journey also will take them to western Canada for games in Edmonton on Thursday and Calgary on Saturday.
Never mind that those three Canadian cities usually have temperatures that hover around Braydon Coburn's jersey number - five, as in Fahrenheit.
Never mind that those cities are more about the wilderness than tourist attractions.
They wanted to experience the electric atmosphere provided by true fans. In cities where hockey is No. 1. By far.
"Canada is hockey," said Ricky Schwalm, a Charlotte, N.C., resident who grew up in Gilbertsville, Pa., just outside Pottstown, along with three of the other men on the trip.
"We figured in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, we'll see some very passionate fans, but we want to let them know that the Flyers have a passionate fan base," said Jon Jacob, 29, who grew up in Medford, N.J., and now lives in Charlotte, where he is a financial analyst for the Bank of America.
As they attended Tuesday's thriller in Winnipeg's ear-splitting MTS Centre, five wore Flyers jerseys and the other was dressed in an all-orange suit and orange-and-black top hat. They watched the Flyers score the tying goal with 9.7 seconds left in regulation en route to a riveting 5-4 overtime win.
"We were 10 seconds from a loss and a night of Jets fans throwing a little trash talk our way," Jacob said. "It was a huge swing at the end and a great way to start the trip."
Jacob called Jets fans "very receptive. A lot of them are kind of surprised we came out to Winnipeg, but it's very cool we get to see the visiting environment."
The six men have been traveling to Flyers road games for six seasons.
"After we get done this year, there will be 13 arenas we've all been to," Schwalm said. "We're trying to get to them all."
Schwalm, 29, who also works at Bank of America in Charlotte, said the trip was planned last summer.
"When the schedule came out, I said, 'Canada for a week. It's a bank holiday in February. We've got to go,' " he said. "None of us are married yet or have kids, so if we are going to make this trip, now is the time to do it."
Mike Rakowski, who grew up in Gilbertsville and now lives in Wilmington, said that traveling north of the border was a "must."
"It's Canada. I mean, you have to do it," said Rakowski, 28, a structural engineer. "For intensity, it's the place to go. Some of the other places we went, they're not really big hockey fans, but these are true hockey fans. We went to Atlanta [before it relocated to Winnipeg this season] and Florida, and their fans aren't [into it]. Florida was maybe 50/50 as far as Flyers and [Panthers] fans.
"Up here, it's different," Rakowski added. "You want that passion. You want to hear the people chirp."
The group includes two other former residents of Gilbertsville - Derick Schoenly, 28, of Charlotte, and Michael Nurk, 26, of West Chester - and Ian Devivi, 28, who went to college with one of the men and now lives in San Francisco.
"Home games are always a good time, but there seems to be something added by being the road fans," said Jacob, whose group has also traveled to Anaheim, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh, Tampa, and Washington - and has a trip planned for Boston next month.
Oddly, Flyers fans have a better chance of seeing their team win on the road, where they are 19-9-2, than at home (14-10-5).
Breakaways. Two of the league's highest-scoring rookies may be on the ice Thursday. The Flyers' Matt Read is third among rookies (34 points) - and first in goals (16) - and Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (35 points) is second. Nugent-Hopkins has been sidelined with a shoulder injury but has been practicing lately, and the Oilers have not announced whether he will return Thursday. . . . Edmonton is 29th out of the 30 NHL teams with just 52 points.
Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at firstname.lastname@example.org or @BroadStBull on Twitter.