Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Watching 'Your' Guys Win Somewhere Else

On Monday night, the artist formerly known as Adam EatShit came to my house to watch game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was the first time he had come over specifically to watch hockey since the Flyers were eliminated. He came over because he had to. As a die-hard Flyers fan like myself, he had to be with someone else who had spent an inordinate amount of time rooting for Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne to hoist the most prestigious trophy in sports.

It was a moment I was completely and utterly prepared for, or so I thought. Ever since Carter and Richards were stunningly traded within hours of each other, the Kings immediately became my de facto second favorite team in the NHL. When Simon Gagne joined Richards in LA, that feeling only grew stronger. And by the time Carter was reunited with his buddy in a midseason trade, the Kings truly had become Flyers West, with the longtime Flyers joining Justin Williams, John Stevens and Ron Hextall in Hollywood.

I had spent quite literally their entire careers rooting for Gagne, Richards and Carter. I wasn't about to wish ill will on a trio of guys that never wanted to leave Philadelphia in the first place. So I rooted for the Kings every time they took the ice against any team not named the Flyers. I wanted them to make the playoffs, wanted them to beat the top-seeded Canucks, wanted them to somehow find a way to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. And once the Flyers were discarded for about the 8 millionth time in my life by the Devils, I wanted the Kings to win the Stanley Cup. I wanted to see Carter and Richards and especially Gagne get that elusive championship that they all got so damn close to here in Philadelphia.

But here's the thing, I wasn't totally prepared for it like I thought. Because as I watched Gagne be the third King passed the Cup — and see him almost drop it — only later to see the former Flyers captain hand it off to his best friend and former Flyers sniper, I couldn't help but think one thought: It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Don't get me wrong, I was and am happy for Richards and Carter and Gagne, just like I was happy for Rod Brind'Amour when he finally got his Cup in Carolina. But these men who had spent their entire careers in Philadelphia prior to the 2011-12 season weren't supposed to be celebrating the ultimate achievement wearing black and purple. They were supposed to be doing it donning the Orange and Black, parading down Broad Street. And while they got painfully close only to come up short time and time again, they were the men who would lead the charge. Richards was the captain and Carter the goal-scorer. They had both signed long — and I mean long — term contracts to essentially be Flyers for life. Gagne was already there forever, even if his time was coming to an end. They were our guys, warts and all, and they were supposed to play out their careers here.

Instead, they were shipped off to greener pastures. Maybe it didn't seem like it at the time, particularly for Carter, but in the end, here they are with the one thing Philadelphia management decided they couldn't get here. Frankly, it's more difficult to stomach than I ever imagined. Watching my guys, and I mean that in every sense of the word, particularly when it comes to Mike Richards, win the one thing I wanted for them and myself so badly somewhere else leaves the ultimate bittersweet taste in my mouth. I'm thrilled for them; I really am. And I love the players the Flyers got in return for their departures. But it hurts. Because it wasn't supposed to be like this.

Richards and Carter and Gagne were absolutely supposed to win a championship … but they were supposed to do it for us, for the Flyers, for Philadelphia.

I know there are some Flyers fans out there saying they take solace in the fact that the Kings weren't really their team. They were bit parts in the victory. And yes, Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, captain Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty are the leaders of LA. It is their team. They are the stars. But to discount the influence of Richards and Carter, even Gagne, is absurd. The Carter trade was the move that ignited a completely dormant LA offense. Richards was a defensive beast all season and all playoff long, even if he had his worst statistical season to date. And in the Cup Final, Carter scored a pair of game-winners, including the Cup winner, while Richards assisted twice in the clinching contest. Even Gagne played a leadership role, otherwise Darryl Sutter wouldn't have risked shaking up his lineup to dress him in the Final after missing nearly the entire season with a concussion. They were more than bit parts, they were big pieces.

Maybe they never would hoist the Cup as the faces of the franchise here in Philadelphia. But that doesn't make it any easier for me, after watching the Flyers get bounced yet again in the second round, while Richards, Carter and Gagne finally got to hoist the greatest trophy in the world on the other side of the country.

It's a weird feeling, watching your guys win it all somewhere else. You watch them for years on end, witnessing and picking apart their every move, cheering them on and building a bond. You wait for them to bring you that ultimate joy, to earn that championship you both want so damn much. And then they go and do it somewhere else. It's a feeling you can't quite describe. Even bittersweet doesn't do it justice. Because I am happy, and hurt, and proud, and angry, and ultimately content all at the same time. I don't know what you call that, exactly.

But I know we can now call Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne champions. I've always wanted to say that. I just never really thought it'd be under these circumstances.

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